A former Baroque-style courthouse turned modern marvel, Berlin’s Jewish Museum is one of the city's most frequented cultural institutions, and is an equally triumphant and defiant physical representation of the controversial history it depicts. Created by famed Polish-American architect, Daniel Libeskind, the remarkable zig-zag design of the property makes a visit to this museum an experience that sears itself into the memory. Libeskind’s deconstructivist vision for the Jewish Museum was conceived through a competition a year prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, although it wouldn’t open until 2001 on the side of the Wall previously known as West Berlin.
Via the Baroque Kollegienhaus, visitors essentially ‘go underground’ into the dramatic Entry Void where they are presented with three different sections telling three different stories. The Garden of Exile and Emigration remembers those who were forced to leave Berlin; the Holocaust Tower symbolises the inability to venture further; and the longest path to the Stair of Continuity emphasises the continuity of Jewish life in Germany.
The permanent exhibition, Two Millennia of German Jewish History, sits at the heart of the museum and allows visitors to see Germany in the past and present through the eyes of its Jewish minority. A breathtaking and must-see installation is Menashe Kadishman’s Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves), which consists of 10,000 open-mouthed faces cut from circular iron plates littering the entire floor.
Somewhat controversially, all the architecture and exhibitions of the Jewish Museum have been designed to ensure that events such as the Holocaust are well and truly integrated into the consciousness of Berlin today. Those with a keen eye will note there are no entrances or exits to Libeskind’s building. Instead, there is the promise of doors but they metaphorically lead to dead ends. This is just one example of the symbolism contained in this museum that knows no bounds and warrants deep reflection and return visits.