Jewish Museum Berlin

By Nathaniel Popper

Published April 29, 2005, issue of April 29, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In the city where Nazis plotted the extermination of the Jews, the recently built Jewish Museum runs like a jagged scar across the still-recovering metropolis. The museum is ostensibly dedicated to the entire history of Jews in Germany, but the architecture leaves little question that in Berlin, the policies of the Nazi government invariably overwhelm everything that came before it. The zigzagging, metal-clad building designed by architect Daniel Libeskind is ripe for numerous interpretations, but it is, in all readings, violent.

Libeskind’s structure has no entrance or exit, so visitors enter through the Baroque building next door. When this ornate courthouse was built, the thoroughly assimilated Jews of Berlin were a vital part of Berlin’s cultural life. The museum’s displays pay tribute to German-Jewish giants like Moses Mendelssohn in its telling of the story of Nazism through documents and artifacts. But these displays seem like a sort of ephemeral mirage inside Libeskind’s commanding architecture; many critics said that the building would have been more powerful if it was left empty. The organizing concept of the building is the five voids that form the buildings crooked spine — empty, five-story spaces representing what was irretrievably lost.

In good German fashion, each architectural metaphor is explained on a neat little placard, and visitors are led by prim guards in matching red scarves. The museum has benefited from the German fascination for all things related to Jews, becoming on e of Germany’s most visited museums. But while this is a German museum, it was indelibly shaped by the vision of Libeskind, an outsider. Berlin’s new Holocaust memorial, set to open later this year, was built by another outsider, New Yorker Peter Eisenman. Finding visitors is no problem;

Find us on Facebook!
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love.
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.