More Jewish Museum Berlin

January 31, 2012


You may think that there is nothing worth seeing at the Jewish Museum Berlin, since so far this year all I’ve ever reported is going there for afternoon tea, but of course it’s much more than a café venue. During their last visit to Berlin, my parents spent almost 5 hours there and reportedly only saw half of it (they were very thorough)! Since I live right next door and can get in for free, thanks to my ICOM membership, I’ve decided rather than trying to see the whole thing in one big museum marathon, I’ll keep visiting a couple of galleries at a time. So, last Friday I started with my first two galleries:

The museum tour starts on the ground level of the old building. Here there are three paths, or axes, and two what I would call installations, as well as the Rafael Roth Learning Center. The ‘Axis of Exile’ remembers the 280,000 German Jews who fled into exile from the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1941. Exhibits include a collection of photographs of anti Semitic signs, and a copy of the emigration regulations which stipulated what property emigrants were allowed to take with them, much of which was still confiscated anyway. The Axis of Exile leads to the ‘Garden of Exile’, an installation of 49 tilted columns with olive trees growing out of them, standing on sloping ground. It makes you feel slightly dizzy walking around them, which is to reflect the fact that despite exile granting safety, “the escape from Germany and the arrival in a foreign country also caused feelings of disorientation”. The ‘Axis of the Holocaust” commemorates the 6 million Jews in Europe who fell victim to the Nazi genocide, including 200,000 from Germany. Exhibits include photographs, personal documents such as letters, and keepsakes such as toys, jewellery, a blanket from a concentration camp, a violon or a sewing machine, which were e.g. kept hidden, smuggled or were given for safekeeping, and have now been donated to the museum. Some tell the stories of survivors of the holocaust, others of donors’ murdered families and friends. The Axis of the Holocaust slopes up to the Holocaust Tower, a 24 metre high, unheated, empty space lit only by outside light falling through a narrow  slit in the wall. The architect, Daniel Libeskind, called this space the “voided void” and it was “later interpreted as a commemorative space for the victims of the Holocaust”. Finally, the ‘Axis of Continuity’ leads to the the permanent exhibition, which tells the history of the Jews in Germany from 10th century until today.

The second space I went to see was the first gallery of the permanent exhibition, “The World of Ashkenaz, 950-1500”, which looks at how the “Jewish communities emerged and flourished in the region of present-day Germany”. Themes covered in the exhibits include scholarship and education, language and the art of writing, holy scriptures and manuscripts, music and astronomy, all of which are closely linked, but also the 11th century crusades, when attitudes towards Jews changed – did you know that many prejudices towards the Jews in fact date back to the Middle Ages their origins? – and the subsequent work restrictions imposed on Jewish communities. The exhibition is fairly interactive. Central to the gallery is a large tree, where you can write a wish on a paper pomegranate and pin it on the tree, and in relation to the travelling merchants, there are pots filled with spices such as mustard, star anis, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or cloves, to smell and touch. A wee theatre shows the 9 minute film “A Thousand Years Ago” on a loop, or you can choose between 4 short stories about Diaspora, settlements, trades and persecution to play on another screen. As well as the films, there are also two listening posts, one with a 13th C poem and a 15th C letter, the oldest documents of the Yiddish language, read out in Western Yiddish, and the other with contemporary reports of the 1096 crusades, read out in English or German. Two computer interactives let you see how a page in the Talmud is structured, or learn more about the Hebrew language and  alphabet and write your name. I also really liked the Q&A some of the highlight objects on display. It was a simple lift the flap activity, but the relevant questions encouraged visitors to think about what they were looking at, rather than just read a label with all the answers, e.g. a Roman lamp with questions such as “What was it used for?” or “What does it reveal about Jewish life in Germany?”.

The visit lasted just over an hour, and there was definitely plenty to see in that time. I’ll be back soon to continue with the other galleries :-)


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2 Responses to “More Jewish Museum Berlin”

  1. Beau Says:

    I was in Berlin back in 2014 – wish I had time on my trip to visit the Jewish Museum Berlin! Thanks for sharing!



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