From the moment you see the Jewish Museum in Berlin, you know you’re about to have a unique experience. The museum opened in 2001, but even before it opened, the empty building drew an unexpected number of visitors. The museum is actually a building complex that includes the Collegienhaus, a former courthouse built in the 18th century and the latest addition is the Libeskind Building, a post modern masterpiece created by Daniel Libeskind. The museum is extremely popular and has had a record high number of over four million visitors. The architecture of the buildings alone is a good enough reason to visit.
The facade of the Libeskind Building lets the visitors draw their own conclusions, but there was some logic to the way the windows were laid out. During the design process, Libeskind plotted out the specific addresses of several significant Jewish and German citizens and then joined them to form an invisible matrix.
Walking through the space is an experience. To get from one building to another, you must walk through several voids that connect the new building and the old building. The voids are not just structural, they have a symbolic meaning too–originating in the Holocaust quote, “That which can never be exhibited when it comes to Jewish Berlin history: humanity reduced to ashes.”
The path from the idea to found a Jewish museum in West Berlin to creating an exhibition concept was a long one. In 1991, the Berlin senate voted to scrap the Jewish Museum. Financial pressures from unforeseen unification expenses and a serious bid for Berlin to host a future Olympics prompted the senate’s decision to reallocate the Museum’s $50 million funding. However, Libeskind alerted the international press and several influential political and cultural figures, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made public their support for the museum. Due to these pressures, in October 1991, parliament overruled the senate and work on the Jewish Museum continued.
Inside the museum are several exhibits. The permanent exhibit “Two Millennia of German Jewish History” gives visitors a chance to see Germany of the past and present through pictures, texts, everyday objects, and interactive exhibits. Visitors get actively involved when they are asked what emancipation means. They get a chance to write down their answers and hang them on the emancipation tree.
The exhibit “Berlin Transit” shows the German capital of the 1020s as a hub connecting east and west; a place of refuge for tens of thousands of Jews from Eastern Europe. Many of the extremely poor Jewish migrants were from Russia, Lithuania and Galicia, escaping horrific war conditions or revolution.