Latitude/Longitude: 52.5014, 13.3945
The Jewish Museum is a museum which explicitly thematizes and integrates, for the first time in post-war Germany, the history of the Jews in Germany and the repercussions of the Holocaust. The museum exhibits the social, political and cultural history of Jews in Berlin from the 4th Century to the present. The new extension is connected to the Baroque building via underground axial roads. The longest road leads to the “Stair of Continuity” and to the Museum itself, while the second leads to the “Garden of Exile and Emigration” and the third to the dead end of the “Holocaust Void.” The displacement of the spirit is made visible through the straight line of the Void which cuts the ensemble as a whole, connecting the museum exhibition spaces to each other via bridges. The Void is the impenetrable emptiness across which the absence of Berlin’s Jewish citizens is made apparent to the visitor.
“The discussion about a Jewish Museum in Berlin was in process for almost a quarter of a century. Many eminent experts and Holocaust survivors discussed this issue and the implications of building a Jewish Museum in Berlin. The conclusions reached were the ones formulated in a brief for the competition held in 1988-1989.
“When I was invited by the Berlin Senate in 1988 to participate in this competition for the Jewish Museum, I felt that this was not a program I had to invent or a building I had to research, rather one in which I was implicated from the beginning, having lost most of my family in the Holocaust and myself having been born only a few hundred kilometers east of Berlin in Lodz, Poland.
Three basic ideas
“There are three basic ideas that formed the foundation for the Jewish Museum design. First, the impossibility of understanding the history of Berlin without understanding the enormous intellectual, economic and cultural contribution made by the Jewish citizens of Berlin. Second, the necessity to integrate physically and spiritually the meaning of the Holocaust into the consciousness and memory of the city of Berlin. Third, that only through the acknowledgement and incorporation of this erasure and void of Jewish life in Berlin, can the history of Berlin and Europe have a human future.
Between the Lines
“The official name of the project is the “Jewish Museum,” but I have called it ‘Between the Lines.’ It is a project about two lines of thinking, organization and relationship. One is a straight line, but broken into many fragments; the other is a tortuous line, but continuing indefinitely.
“The site is the new-old center of Berlin on Lindenstrasse next to the distinguished Kollegienhaus, the former Baroque Prussian courthouse. At the same time that there was this actual visible site, I felt that there was an invisible matrix of connections, a connection of relationships between figures of Germans and Jews. Even though the competition was held before the Wall fell, I felt that the one binding feature which crossed East and West was the relationship of Germans to Jews. Certain people, workers, writers, composers, artists, scientists and poets formed the link between Jewish tradition and German culture. I found this connection and I plotted an irrational matrix which would yield reference to the emblems of a compressed and distorted star – the yellow star that was so frequently worn on this very site. This is the first aspect of the project.
“I was always interested in the music of Schönberg and in particular his period in Berlin. His greatest work is the opera called ‘Moses and Aaron,’ which, for an important structural reason, could not be completed due to the logic of the libretto. At the end of the opera Moses doesn’t sing, he just speaks, ‘Oh word, thou word,’ addressing the absence of the Word, yet one can understand it as a ‘text.’ This is because when there is no more singing, the missing word which is uttered by Moses, the call for the Word, the call for the Deed, is understood clearly. I sought to complete that opera architecturally and that is the second aspect of this project.
“The third aspect of this project was my interest in the names of those persons who were deported from Berlin during the fatal years of the Holocaust. I asked for and received from Bonn two very large volumes called the ‘Gedenkbuch.’ They are incredibly impressive because all they contain are names, just lists and lists of names, dates of birth, dates of deportation and presumed places where these people were murdered. I looked for the names of the Berliners and where they had died – in Riga, in the Lodz ghetto, and in the concentration camps.
The fourth aspect
“The fourth aspect of the project is formed by Walter Benjamin’s ‘One Way Street.’ This aspect is incorporated into the continuous sequence of 60 sections along the zigzag, each of which represents one of the ‘Stations of the Star,’ described in the text of Walter Benjamin.
“To summarize this fourfold structure: the first is the invisible and irrationally connected star which shines with absent light of individual address; the second is the cutoff of Act 2 of Moses and Aaron which culminates with the notmusical fulfillment of the word; the third is the everpresent dimension of the deported and missing Berliners; the fourth is Walter Benjamin’s urban apocalypse along the One Way Street.
“In more specific terms, the building measures more than 15,000 square meters. The entrance is through the Baroque Kollegienhaus and then into a dramatic entry Void by a stair, which descends under the existing building foundations, crisscrosses underground, and materializes itself as an independent building on the outside. The existing building is tied to the extension underground, preserving the contradictory autonomy of both the old building and the new building on the surface, while binding the two together in the depth of time and space.
“There are three underground ‘roads’ which programmatically have three separate stories. The first and longest road leads to the main stair, to the continuation of Berlin’s history, and to the exhibition spaces in the Jewish Museum. The second road leads outdoors to the E.T.A. Hoffmann Garden and represents the exile and emigration of Jews from Germany. The third axis leads to the dead end – the Holocaust Void.
“Cutting through the form of the Jewish Museum is a Void, a straight line whose impenetrability forms the central focus around which the exhibitions are organized. In order to cross from one space of the Museum to the other, the visitors traverse sixty bridges which open into the Void space, the embodiment of absence.
A museum for all Berliners
“The work is conceived as a museum for all Berliners, for all citizens. Not only those of the present, but those of the future who might find their heritage and hope in this particular place. With its special emphasis on the Jewish dimension of Berlin’s history, this building gives voice to a common fate – to the contradictions of the ordered and disordered, the chosen and not chosen, the vocal and silent.
“I believe that this project joins architecture to questions that are now relevant to all humanity. To this end, I have sought to create a new Architecture for a time which would reflect an understanding of history, a new understanding of Museums and a new realization of the relationship between program and architectural space. Therefore this Museum is not only a response to a particular program, but an emblem of Hope.” Daniel Libeskind.
⇒ Architecture Guide to BERLIN