Since its opening in 2001, the Jewish Museum in Berlin has become a major attraction and one of the most visited museums in the city. It is also the largest Jewish museum in Europe and its permanent exhibition introduces visitors to two millennia of German-Jewish history, the relationship between Jews and non-Jews and the ups and downs of this relationship.
History of the Jewish Museum
The Jewish Museum was founded in 1933 on the Oranienurguer Strabe, but was closed in 1938 by the Nazi regime. It reopened in 2001 and today tells the story of the relationship between Jews and Germans, and between Jews and non-Jews, over two millennia.
The impressive building by architect Daniel Libeskind is a masterpiece of modern architecture and an attraction in itself. The architecture of the new building is stunning, with a zigzag shape that shows two lines of thought. It is a building full of symbolism that links its architecture to the theme of the museum – its design, its forms, its structures themselves recreate atmospheres and tell stories.
For many, the zigzag-shaped building is reminiscent of the broken Star of David. The façade of the building is covered with zinc and has windows that look more like narrow slits and others with different and unusual shapes.
The Jewish Museum Berlin consists of two buildings: an old baroque building, which houses the entrance, the cashier’s office, rooms for temporary exhibitions, rooms for events, the museum shop and a restaurant, and a modern building, which houses the permanent exhibitions.
An underground passageway leads the visitor from the entrance of the old building to the new building, which has no official entrance.
The history of the Jews in Germany, the persecutions and the Holocaust were the inspiration for Daniel Libeskind, son of Jewish Holocaust survivors, to design the building. The architect calls his project “Between the Lines”, because for him “it is about two lines of thought, organisation and relationship. One is a straight line, but broken into many fragments, the other is a tortuous line, but one that continues indefinitely.
Inside, there are five linear corridors that run vertically from the basement to the highest floor. These corridors are called “Void” and are empty spaces with bare concrete walls. The voids are meant to recall the emptiness left by the destruction of Jewish life in Europe.
In one of these corridors is the work of Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman, entitled “Shalechet” or “Fallen Leaves”: the floor is covered with 10,000 iron faces, all of which are different and make noise when walked on. This is the only “Void” accessible, but the others are visible from certain points on the upper floors.
After descending the staircase that connects the buildings and entering the new building, there are three intersecting axes in front of us. These axes symbolise three realities of Jewish history in Germany:
The "Axis of Exile" leads to the outside where the "Garden of Exile" is located. The path leading to it has slightly sloping walls, the ground is uneven and becomes steep, just as the path becomes narrower and narrower until it reaches a heavy gate leading to the garden. The exile garden consists of 49 concrete blocks, topped with plants, lined up in a square. The whole area has a 12 degree slope to create a sense of instability, disorientation, symbolising the feeling of expulsion of the Jews from Germany. The plants growing on top of the blocks symbolise hope. The "Holocaust Axis" is a path that narrows and darkens each time and leads to the "Holocaust Tower", a cold, closed concrete room 20 metres high, with only a small opening in the ceiling through which a single ray of light enters. Along the "Axis of Exile" and the "Axis of the Holocaust", exhibitions of photographs and objects tell the story of people who emigrated and others who were sent to a concentration camp. The "Axis of Continuity", the longest of the axes, has a large staircase with intersecting concrete beams leading to the exhibition on the upper floors. This axis symbolises the continuation of history, the path of connection that overcame the other axes.
On an area of 3,000 square metres, the permanent exhibition presents the life of the Jews in Germany from the Middle Ages to the present day. Everything is told with documents, letters, photos, pictures, videos, interactive elements and everyday objects such as furniture, crockery and clothing.
There is much to discover in the museum about Jewish traditions and culture, such as kosher cooking, Jewish marriage, etc. The museum also has temporary exhibitions in its programme.
How to get there
The Jewish Museum is open daily from 10:00 to 20:00 and on Mondays from 10:00 to 22:00. It is closed on 24 December and on the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.
Price: 8 euros for adults, free for children under 6.
Address: Lindenstr. 9-14 – 10969 – Berlin
U-Bahn: Line U1, station Hallesches Tor; Line U6, station Hallesches Tor or Kochstrasse
Bus: Line 248, stop Jüdisches Museum