Jüdisches Museum Berlin is the first Jewish Museum in Berlin. It opened in 2001 and is one of the largest Jewish Museums in Europe. Its exhibitions and permanent collection, educational activities, and diverse program of events make the museum a vibrant center of reflection onJewish history and culture as well as about migration and diversity in Germany. An architectural masterpiece, Daniel Libeskind’s spectacular structure has firmly established itself as one of Berlin’s most recognizable landmarks. The zinc-paneled building is innovative in the connection it creates between the museum’s topics and its architecture. Rich in symbolism, the museum’s architecture makes German-Jewish history palpable.
The museum’s permanent historical exhibition extends over 3,000 m² and invites visitors to travel through two millennia of German-Jewish history. Its depictions of 14 historical periods from the Middle Ages to the present paint a vivid portrait of Jewish life in Germany. Artistic and everyday objects, photos and letters, interactive displays and media stations together convey the history of Jewish culture and show how tightly Jewish life and German history are interwoven. Temporary exhibitions on cultural history, contemporary art installations, and special displays – these are a few of the ways in which the museum’s special exhibitions draw on a broad range of themes to complement the permanent historical exhibition. The W. Michael Blumenthal Academy, built across the street from the museum, unites, with a total surface of 6.000 square meters, the archives, library and education department under one roof, as well as the newly founded Academy Programs. These programs broaden the museum’s spectrum to include the debate on new terms and concepts necessary for greater social participation of ethnic and religious minorities in German society today.
On January 24, 1933, six days before the Nazi regime’s “machination”, Berlin’s first Jewish Museum was opened. Under the leadership of Karl Schwarz, the world’s first Jewish Museum was built next to the New Synagogue in Oranienburger Strasse. The museum also collected and exhibited Jewish art of the modern era alongside art and historical evidence of the Jewish past. The art collection was understood as a contribution to German art history. One of the last exhibitions was a retrospective about Alexander and Ernst Oppler.
On November 10, 1938 (during the November pogroms) the museum was closed by the Secret State Police and the Museum Inventory seized. Today there are parts of this art collection at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Jewish Community of Berlin in 1971, the idea of a new foundation of the museum was created on the occasion of the exhibition and the fate of the Berlin Museum in the building of the old chamber court. The Jewish Museum was created from the Jewish Department of the former Berlin Museum for the History of Berlin.
In 1989, Daniel Libeskind won the first prize of an architectural competition for the expansion of the Berlin Museum. The foundation stone for the new building was laid in 1992. During the long-running construction phase there were heated discussions about the use of the new building and the position of the Jewish department. On 1 June 1994, Amnon Barzel was appointed director of the Jewish Museum, which was still part of the Berlin Museum. He supported his legal autonomy. In December 1997 he was followed by W. Michael Blumenthal, who also founded an independent Jewish museum in the old building and the new building of the Berlin Museum. On January 1, 1999, the Jewish Museum was founded as the institution of the state of Berlin. Already at this time, the still empty new building was open to visitors; It was honored with the German Architecture Prize 1999. Under the leadership of the New Zealand project director Ken Gorbey, the permanent exhibition of the Jewish Museum was developed in eighteen months. After the festive gala opening on 9 September 2001, the museum was open to the public on 13 September 2001. Because of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the originally planned opening date was postponed by two days. In 2001, the 14th German Bundestag passed the law establishing a foundation Jewish Museum Berlin. As a federal foundation, the museum is an independent legal entity under public law and an integral part of federal government administration. Since February 2017 Léontine Meijer-van Mensch has been the director of the Jewish Museum Berlin and the deputy director.
The Jewish Museum Berlin consists essentially of two buildings, the baroque old building of the Kollegienhaus and the new building in the style of the Deconstructivism of Daniel Libeskind. Both houses have no surface connection; They are connected by the ground floor. A further new building is connected to the old building, which serves as a group entrance and a group cloakroom and also offers access to the garden. From the Lindenstraße, this building is hidden by the large courtyard gate. Parts of the administration and other departments are also housed in surrounding office buildings. In September 2007, the museum opened the new Glashof, which was designed by Daniel Libeskind. The glass roof spans the courtyard of the baroque old building. Since the end of 2012, the ensemble has been supplemented by the opposite Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin in the former Flower Market Hall.
The Kollegienhaus was built in 1735 according to the plans of Philipp Gerlach and formerly housed the Prussian chamber court. When this building was moved to the new building at the Kleistpark in 1913, the Berlin consistory was replaced.
In the Second World War it was destroyed except for the outer walls. Initially, the complete lay-down for a motorway tangente (planned A 106) was foreseen. Only 1963 to 1969 reconstruction took place. Before the Jewish Museum moved into the house, it was the seat of the city-historical Berlin Museum.
In the old building the entrance area with security control, ticket sales, information, wardrobe, museum shop and restaurant as well as special exhibition rooms, an auditorium and offices are housed. The roofed courtyard (Glashof) serves as a lounge and event space.
The architecture of the zigzag-shaped new building, which was officially opened on 23 January 1999, is characterized by a titanium-zinc façade, unusual shaped windows, many acute angles in the walls, inclined floors and gray exposed concrete.
Through the entrance area in the old building, visitors enter the lower floor of the new building through a black slate staircase and from there to the main exhibition of the museum, smaller temporary exhibitions and the Rafael Roth Learning Center.
After entering the new building, you will first encounter three intersecting oblique “axes”: the axis of continuity that ends at a high staircase leading to the permanent exhibition, the axis of exile and the axis of the Holocaust.
The axis of the exile leads out of the building into the exile garden, a deeper square surface, the limiting concrete walls of which prevent visibility into the environment. In the garden of the exile there are 49 six-meter-high concrete blocks on a sloping ground planted with olive-trees, as oil-trees symbolizing peace and hope in the Jewish tradition would not tolerate the climate. The number 49 refers to the founding year of the State of Israel, 1948, while the 49th Stele stands in the center for Berlin. Originally, it was to be filled with earth from Jerusalem. However, this plan has not been implemented. Furthermore, the number Seven in Judaism (7 × 7 = 49) is a sacred number.
The experience of exile is to be experienced in the garden. The visitor feels strange first, then the walk through the garden is characterized by uncertainty, because because of the crooked soil one gets easily into the wobble and the concrete columns restrict the view uncommonly. In early summer, during the flowering of the pastures, the garden is even more stranger due to the strong unknown fragrance.
The similarity of the garden of the exile with the stelae field of the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe was the reason for plagiarism accusations by Libeskind against its architect Peter Eisenman in 1999; The dispute could be settled.
The axis of the Holocaust ends at the Holocaust Tower. This is a dark, cold, high memorial room, through which day light penetrates only through a column in the ceiling. To most people this space is oppressive and inconceivable. However, the space has only a symbolic meaning and is not the reproduction of a gas chamber, as many visitors think. At about two and a half meters high there is a ladder for maintenance work in the tower leading up to the ceiling. According to some visitors it serves as an escape route or as a symbol for the unattainable.
In the new building of the museum there are several so-called “Voids”, which are arranged on a straight line through the zigzag building. The Voids are completely empty spaces extending from the basement to the top floor. With the exception of the “Memory Voids”, they are not accessible from the permanent exhibition, but can be viewed from some places. They are intended to recall the vacancies that the Holocaust, but also the expulsions and pogroms, which Jews had fallen victim to in the centuries before in Germany.
After a group-building, built in 2005, the glass-framed by Sukkah (Hebrew for ‘Laubhütte’) by Daniel Libeskind has been the second expansion of the museum since September 2007. A glass roof spans the 670 m² courtyard of the U-shaped baroque old building, the former Kollegienhaus, and is supported by four free-standing steel strut braces. With this draft, Daniel Libeskind refers to the Jewish folk festival Sukkot, an early Erntedankfest, which has been celebrated since the time of the exile in memory of the fact that the Israelis have lived in huts during the desert migration. The museum has an event space for around 500 people. It adjusts itself to the old building by the glass roof only at a few points with the old building constructively connected and the connection by a stepped, lower glass joint takes place. Nine disc types, each mirrored in the fronts, create a lively relief of the large surface.
The garden behind the old building was designed in 1986-1988 according to a design by Hans Kollhoff and Arthur A. Ovaska. It was added as a monument to the memorial list of the Berlin State Monument. The design of the open spaces around the Libeskind building is the work of the garden and landscape architects Cornelia Müller and Jan Wehberg. They took elements of the Libeskind building – such as the Voids – and created different areas of importance, such as a Rosenhain, which stands for the historic Jerusalem. A ground relief made of different colored natural stones surrounds parts of the building; In particular the Paul-Celan courtyard bordered on three sides by the zigzag form is aesthetically shaped by the relief. A graphic by Gisèle Celan-Lestrange served as a template.
The square in front of the Academy has been called Fromet-and-Moses-Mendelssohn-Platz since April 2013. The designation was preceded by a longer discussion on district level, in which the Jewish Museum participated.
With the Academy, the Jewish Museum Berlin wants to create a place of research and discussion. One does not want to devote itself solely to Jewish history and the present, but to expand the spectrum around the topics of migration and diversity, and to “provide a platform for dealing with Germany as an immigration country and the ensuing pluralization of society”. In 2012, the museum opened the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy and thus broadened its focus. In addition, there was the Jewish-Islamic Forum and, on the other hand, migration and diversity with the focus on remembrance culture (s) in the migrant society. Here, too, the perspectives of other religious and ethnic minorities are shown. The focus is not only on the relationship between the majority population and individual minorities, but also on the exchange and networking of minorities.
The academy programs include readings, conferences, workshops and panel discussions.
With the Lars Day Prize – the future of memory, the Academy programs, together with the Lars Day Foundation, have been marking projects and initiatives “which, in a creative and forward-looking form, continue to promote the memory of national socialist crimes and responsibility for a present and future without hate and exclusion take”.
The permanent exhibition Two-thousand-year German-Jewish history is located on the first and second floors of the Libeskind Building and gives an insight into Germany from the perspective of its Jewish minority. It begins with the medieval SCHUM cities on the Rhine, Speyer, Worms and Mainz.
The visitors will experience the Baroque by Glikl bas Judah Leib (1646-1724, alias Glückl von Hameln) and their diary, which depicts their life as a Jewish merchant in Hamburg. The 18th century is experienced by the intellectual and personal heritage of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786). These views are supplemented by the description of Jewish life at the farm and in the countryside. The image of the emancipation of the 19th century is characterized by optimism, social and political achievements and increasing prosperity. But also the setbacks and disappointments for the Jewish communities of that time are discussed. The experiences of German-Jewish soldiers of the First World War stand at the beginning of the representation of the 20th century. In the section on National Socialism, visitors see how German Jews reacted to their increasing discrimination and led, for example, to the founding of Jewish schools and social services. However, the exclusion and extermination of the Jews put an end to these initiatives. After the Shoah, 250,000 survivors were found in camps for displaced persons, where they were waiting for an emigration strike. At the same time, new small Jewish communities developed in East and West. In the end, two major Nazi processes of the post-war period are discussed: the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial (1963-1965) and the Majdanek trial in Düsseldorf (1975-1981). The end of the exhibition is an audio installation in which Jews who have grown up in Germany report on their childhood and youth after 1945. They began a new chapter of Jewish life in Germany.
The Rafael Roth Learning Center is located on the ground floor of the Jewish Museum Berlin. In 17 computer stations for individual visitors and groups, Jewish history is presented multimedially and interactively. Under the key words “Things”, “Stories”, “Faces”, visitors will get to know the highlights of the collection and will be able to deepen themselves into larger virtual exhibitions – For example the life history of Albert Einstein or the Eastern European immigration between 1880 and 1924. Video interviews offer insights into Jewish life today in Germany. The computer game Sansanvis Park was specially developed for children. It is named after the Berlin real estate contractor and patron Rafael Roth (1933-2013).
The installation Shalechet – Fallen foliage of Menashe Kadishman is located in the “Memory Void”, one of the “Voids”, the vacancies or cavities that pass through the building. It is located on the ground floor of the new building. In the room, over 10,000 faces of steel plates of different designs are distributed on the floor, which are intended not only to remind the Jews murdered in the Holocaust, but are dedicated to all victims of war and violence. The visitor is free to go about it. When you decide to walk over the faces, this produces metallic sounds. It is not possible to move quietly. This is, however, the intention of the artist: by going about it, people are given back their voices.
The Gallery of the Missing is a project of the artist Via Lewandowsky within the exhibition of the Jewish Museum. These are three sound installations in black mirrored, non-visible glass showcases at different points of the permanent exhibition. Shown are destroyed objects of Jewish culture: the Encyclopaedia Judaica, the Jewish hospital in Frankfurt and the sculpture The new man of Otto Freundlich. Infrared headphones allow visitors to listen to up to 40 audio recordings with descriptions, explanations and background information, sounds and music as they move along the black glass walls.
Visitors to the Jewish Museum are looked after by “hosts”, whose task, besides the protection of the objects, is primarily to provide visitors with the first contact. In 2006 a report by Günther B. Ginzel with the title Die Vermittler, which was broadcast among other things on Arte and the first one, was produced by the visitor service in the Jewish Museum. The “hosts” can be recognized by their red scarves.
Since September 2001, an archive of the New York-based Leo Baeck Institute has been located in Berlin. It opens up almost all of the world’s most important archives on German-Jewish history in Germany. The Leo Baeck Institute in New York was founded in 1955 with branches in Jerusalem and London by the Council of Jews from Germany with the aim of conducting scientific research on the history of the Jews in the German – speaking world since the time of the Enlightenment, collecting the necessary material and Related publications. The archive has the most comprehensive collection of materials on the history of the Jews in Germany, Austria and other German-speaking areas in Central Europe during the last 300 years – including about a million documents such as church records, personal documents, correspondence, a photo archive as well as diverse testimonies from the religious, Social, cultural, intellectual, political and economic life. Unique is the collection of more than 1200 memoirs of German-speaking Jews (also and especially from the post-Nazi period). In New York there is an important art collection with works by well-known German Jewish painters, illustrators and architects, as well as a large number of drawings by occupants of concentration camps.
With the project on.tour – the JMB makes school, which was launched in 2007, the Jewish Museum Berlin wants to reach even more young people. In the meantime, on.tour has visited some 16 federal states in some cases, and has visited the Berlin Youth Festival as well as 430 schools. In direct contact with the students the interest and the enthusiasm for German-Jewish history is to be awakened and the ability to prejudice and critical thinking to be strengthened. As the museum travels to the schools, teachers and teachers will be encouraged to engage in German-Jewish history in the classroom – beyond the discussion of national socialism. Another goal of on.tour – the JMB makes school formulated W. Michael Blumenthal, director of the Jewish Museum Berlin: “Every student in Germany should have visited the Jewish Museum Berlin at least once before they finish school.”
The mobile exhibition is set up in the schoolyard or school building. Five robust and flexible display cubes with 16 display cabinets and easy-to-understand text panels provide an insight into Jewish history and the world of life. The topics “Jewish everyday life”, “life and survival”, “chances and discrimination” and “celebrating parties” will be presented on the basis of everyday objects and ceremonial objects. For example, kosher gummy bears, bearing the stamp of the rabbinate, point to the Jewish dietary laws. The stress field in the 19th century between the desire for recognition and equality of opportunity on the one hand, occupational bans and discrimination on the other, is exemplified in the life stories of the condom maker Julius Fromm and the famous physicist and world citizen Albert Einstein. The linking of German-Jewish history with the lifeworld of the pupils is also intended to make a visit to the Jewish Museum Berlin.