The Jewish Museum Berlin is a building devout to the social, political, and cultural history of Jews in Germany from the 4th century until the present day. It first opened to the public in the year 2001. Most significantly, the museum clearly depicts and incorporates the Holocaust’s ramifications. It is also Europe’s largest museum. It comprises of three structures: Daniel Libeskind designed two out of three structures particularly for the museum. They are also the new extensions. Before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Jewish Museum was located in West Berlin.

Aerial View The Jewish Museum
Source: Guenter Schneider

The Jewish Museum Berlin Foundation gets a yearly grant from the Federal Government Commissioner for Cultural Affairs and the Media. It accounts for around three-quarters of its entire budget. Also donations and ticket sales generate the remaining cash.

Elevation The Jewish Museum
Source: Hufton+Crow

History

Karl Schwartz under his direction established the first Jewish Museum in Berlin on January 24, 1933, six days before the Nazis took power. The Gestapo shut down the museum on November 10, 1938, during the ‘November Pogroms,’ also known as Kristallnacht, and confiscated the museum’s collection. A “Society for a Jewish Museum” began in 1976. After that three years later, the Berlin Museum, which records the city’s history, established a Jewish Department, although ideas about establishing a new museum dedicated to Jewish history in Berlin were already underway.

The Berlin government held an anonymous competition in 1987 to expand the first Jewish Museum in Berlin, which opened in 1933. The programme aimed to re-establish a Jewish presence in Berlin after WWII. Among numerous other globally known architects, Daniel Libeskind became the winner in 1988. His design won because it was the only one that used a radical, formal design as a conceptually expressive instrument to portray Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust. The empty museum finished in 1999.

Daniel Libeskind and Elevation The Jewish Museum
Source: Wikipedia and Hufton+Crow

Concept

The Jewish Museum comprises two buildings: a baroque ancient building known as the “Kollegienhaus” (which previously held the Berlin Museum) and a modern, deconstructivist-style structure. Daniel Libeskind designed the latter.

The Libeskind building (about 15,000 m2) has a twisted zig-zag form. It is accessible only via an underground passage from the old building. The design created before the Berlin Wall came down is based on three insights. Firstly, it is impossible to understand the history of Berlin without understanding the enormous contributions made by its Jewish citizens. Secondly, the meaning of the Holocaust must be integrated into the consciousness and memory of the city of Berlin. Finally, the City of Berlin and the country of Germany must acknowledge the erasure of Jewish life in its history (Daniel Libeskind – www.libeskind.com).

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Elevation The Jewish Museum (L) and Aerial View The Jewish Museum (R)
Source: Hufton+Crow (L) and BitterBredt (R)

Architectural Design

The visitor enters the Baroque Kollegienhaus and then descends via stairs into the basement via the spectacular Entry Void. The older structure is connected to the new expansion via the subsurface, retaining the paradoxical autonomy of both the old and new structures on the surface. The descent leads to three underground axial routes, each with its own narrative to tell. The first leads to a dead end – the Holocaust Tower.  The second leads out of the building and into the Garden of Exile and Emigration, remembering those who were forced to leave Berlin  The third and longest, traces a path leading to the Stair of Continuity, then up to the exhibition spaces of the museum, emphasizing the continuum of history (Daniel Libeskind – www.libeskind.com).

Plans and The Staircase
Source: Daniel Libeskind and Hufton+Crow

A Void also slices through the new building’s zigzagging layout to create an area that reflects absence. It is a straight line whose impenetrability becomes the focal point around which shows are organized. To get from one side of the museum to the other, visitors must also cross one of the 60 bridges that open onto this void (Daniel Libeskind – www.libeskind.com).

Form of the Jewish Museum and Lobby
Source: Stephen Andenmatten and Hufton+Crow

Most importantly, the zigzag form of the building also relates to the surrounding site and its relationship to the streets. The small spaces between the Baroque building and the museum addition by enabling the form to twist back and fold back on itself in plan also create several courtyards.

Elevations
Source: Daniel Libeskind

Extensions

Libeskind’s first major international success was the Jewish Museum Berlin. Libeskind has also built two structural extensions in recent years: a glass and steel roof for the courtyard of the “Kollegienhaus” (2007), and the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy of the Jewish Museum in a rectangular 1960s flower market hall on the other side of the street.

Slits and Slices Star of David Matrix in the Facades
Source: Hufton+Crow(L), BitterBredt(M), Michele Nastasi(R)

Exhibitions and Installations

From September 2001 to December 2017, the previous permanent exhibition “Two Millennia of German Jewish History” was also on display. It depicted Germany from the perspective of the Jewish minority. The show started with representations of mediaeval settlements along the Rhine, specifically Speyer, Worms, and Mayence.

Voids
Source: Hufton+Crow(L) and BitterBredt(R)

The new core exhibition “Jewish Life in Germany: Past and Present” and began on 23rd August 2020. It covers more than 3,500 m2, and also tells the story of Jews in Germany from their beginnings to the present day from a Jewish perspective.

An Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman created Shalekhet which is an installation of Fallen leaves, 10,000 faces punched out of steel and distributed on the ground of the Memory Void. This is the only “voided” space of the new building that has an entrance. The artwork is dedicated not only to Jews but to all victims of violence and war.

Shalekhet Installation
Source: Hufton+Crow

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Conclusion

Libeskind is most renowned for designing buildings in areas with a tragic or dramatic history. The zinc-coated museum structure has become a symbol and landmark of the German capital. The jagged floor plan is reminiscent of a fractured Star of David, representing the Jews who were arrested and assassinated in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Symbolism in remembrance architecture is an architectural specialty of Daniel Libeskind. He expresses through architectural forms the different breaks with the past with sharp angles and corners being among his trademarks.

Area Program
Source: Stephen Andenmatten

The structure has a great impact on the community as a Jewish Museum in the heart of Berlin, Germany, a major city of the Holocaust and Jewish persecution. The building’s context makes it more of a monument than a museum, and the addition of displays, the goal of the museum, detracted from the experience of the structure as a reflection of the Jewish community’s cultural battles.

Windows in the Cross of David Matrix
Source: Hufton+Crow

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References

Andenmatten, S. (2012, July 23). Case Study – Jewish Museum Berlin by Daniel Libeskind . Retrieved from issuu.com: https://issuu.com/stephenandenmatten/docs/casestudy

JEWISH MUSEUM BERLIN. (n.d.). Retrieved from Studio Libeskind: https://libeskind.com/work/jewish-museum-berlin/

Jewish Museum Berlin. (2021, August 5). Retrieved from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Museum_Berlin#History

Pavka, E. (2010, November 25). AD Classics: Jewish Museum, Berlin / Studio Libeskind. Retrieved from ArchDaily: https://www.archdaily.com/91273/ad-classics-jewish-museum-berlin-daniel-libeskind

Reucher, G. (2021, May 11). Architecture of remembrance and hope: Daniel Libeskind turns 75. Retrieved from dw.com: https://www.dw.com/en/architecture-of-remembrance-and-hope-daniel-libeskind-turns-75/a-19251296

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