This museum, designed by the world famous Polish-American architect, Daniel Libeskind, is a mixture of both old and new. Entry is through the former Collegienhaus, a fine Baroque building which dates back to 1733-1735, but I suspect most people are anxious to see Libeskind’s modern addition.
Anybody who is familiar with his work won’t be disappointed. He challenges traditional architectural form with titanium-zinc and concrete designs that will also challenge your mind as to whether it fits in with the subject matter of the museum. Whatever you think of his ideas they are undeniably different. Like any so-called great artists of the modern era, his interpretation of what he wanted to portray has been worked out in his own mind and it’s no good me trying to explain it all. Some of his ideas I could understand, but others were pretty well lost on me.
The Judisches Museum was one of Daniel Libeskind’s first major projects and was eagerly awaited by the local population when it opened in 2001. With his architectural fantasies and Jewish background, it was always going to be interesting, if not controversial, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s been well received with something like ¾ million visitors a year coming through its doors.
As for my own thoughts on the museum they’re somewhat mixed. Some work for me-and some don’t. I’m a big fan of his modern design of the building (providing that it stands the test of time), but I’m not convinced about the ’Garden of Exile’ where kids just play hide & seek around the concrete pillars (just as they do at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). The permanent exhibitions detailing what life was like for the Jewish population in Berlin during the Nazi era is ok, but I feel that there is a lot more information that could be shown but isn’t.
The beauty (or otherwise) of modern architecture, like modern art, is in the eye of the beholder, and it doesn’t always follow that what the artist sees in his mind, is necessarily the same as what casual viewers see with their eyes; but good art doesn’t always have to be experienced through sight, but sometimes through the other senses, and the Holocaust Tower is a case in point.
This isolated concrete tower can only be accessed from the main building underground, and the only form of light is from a narrow slit that allows daylight to penetrate this hollow concrete ‘silo’. Standing here alone in this chamber gave me a weird feeling that I wasn’t expecting, but as with all emotions I suppose you have to be receptive to it.
Libeskind describes his ‘spaces’ as “Voids”, and the Holocaust Tower is called the Void of Voids, but the one that I was most intrigued with was the Memory Void.
Installation ‘Shalechet’ as the Memory Void is known, uses more than 10,000 circular iron discs with faces cut out of them in a random fashion which represents fallen leaves (Shalechet in Hebrew). Scattered across the concrete floor, the Israeli sculptor, Menasche Kadishman, suggests that they represent the anguish on the faces of the Jews murdered in Europe. There’s no doubt that this was an unusual poignant piece of art amongst the concrete, but I was surprised that visitors were expected to walk over them as though walking through a pile of leaves, which many people did. The connection between fallen leaves and those killed in the holocaust was certainly not lost on me, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk over those tortured faces all the same.
I very often think that modern culture, in all its forms, sometimes has more style over substance, and it could be argued that the Judisches Museum is a case in point. If you’re expecting to come here to get a much better understanding of what life was like for the Jewish population during the dark days of Nazi oppression, then you’ll be disappointed, because this is a totally different kind of museum.
It’s about the connection between a modern architect and his Jewish background, and if you’re prepared to let your mind follow Daniel Libeskind’s interpretation of events, then you’ll get more from this museum than those who just see it as a modern titanium-zinc concrete building that won’t last anywhere near as long as the Collegienhaus has. Only time will tell.