Jewish Museum Berlin
The imposing, jagged building housing the Jewish Museum Berlin is both a monument and a work of art: Daniel Libeskind’s deconstructivist architecture expresses the German-Jewish experience and symbolically speaks of brokenness and resistance. The now world-famous American architect built this, his first realised new building, between 1993 and 1999. His emblematic design emerged as the winner of a 1989 competition. It played a decisive role in ensuring that the Jewish Museum Berlin was not, as originally planned, implemented simply as an extension of the city’s historical museum but rather as a spatially and conceptually independent exhibition centre.
Libeskind titled his design Between the Lines. This concept of a network of interconnected lines is already evident in the building’s fragmented floor plan: It references places associated with Jewish culture in Berlin’s urban history. In the basement, the building is organised along diagonal, intersecting axes that represent three important and symbolic lines of development of Jewish life in Germany – the Axis of Continuity, the Axis of Exile, and the Axis of the Holocaust.
Another central and recurring element are the so-called Voids – empty concrete shafts that cut vertically through the building and are largely inaccessible. They are meant to introduce museum visitors to the experience of the Shoah and to depict the emptiness that remained after the expulsion and annihilation of Jewish life. The dark Holocaust Tower, a tall, isolated part of the building, also conveys loneliness and anxiety. Daylight enters solely through a narrow slit. Libeskind repeatedly addresses the theme of disorientation: in the seemingly arbitrary articulation of the building’s titanium zinc façade, and in the tilted plane of his design for the Garden of Exile.
The original Baroque building, formerly the Berlin Museum, is joined to the new building via an underground passage and was supplemented by a glass courtyard in 2007. In 2012, architect Bruno Grimmek’s nearby former flower market hall was also converted according to Libeskind’s plans for use by the Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin. German-Jewish history is symbolically inscribed on the architecture of the building ensemble, both inside and out. [KM/DK]