Essential Architecture-  Berlin

Juedisches Museum Jewish Museum


Daniel Libeskind








zinc plating


Jewish Museum Berlin

The Jewish Museum Berlin (Jüdisches Museum Berlin) is a museum in Berlin covering two millennia of German Jewish history.

The Jewish Museum in Berlin was originally founded in Oranienburger Strasse in 1933. It was closed in 1938 by the Nazi regime. The idea to revive the museum was first voiced in 1971, and an "Association for a Jewish Museum" was founded in 1975. A Jewish department of the Berlin Museum was opened after the Berlin Museum first displayed an exhibition on Jewish history in Berlin in 1978. In 1999 the Jewish Museum Berlin was granted status as an independent institution. A building by Daniel Libeskind was finished in 1999 and officially opened in 2001.

The director of the museum is Professor W. Michael Blumenthal, who is originally from Berlin and was US Secretary of the Treasury under President Jimmy Carter.

Architecture of the new building

The building is very distinctive from other museums, since it doesn't respond to any functional requirements, but is rather constructed to create spaces that tell the story of the Jewish people in Germany. The museum itself is a work of art, blurring the lines between architecture and sculpture.

The view from above is that of a large zig-zag line, which earned it the nickname "blitz", German word for thunderbolt. The main building is covered with zinc plating, and the windows are just lines that cross the surface in a random fashion. These lines were created from connecting different sites in a Berlin map that are important to Jewish history. This building has no access of any kind from the street. The entrance is located in an adjacent building, a museum of German history, through a staircase and tunnel embedded in a concrete tower that goes through all the floors of the German museum. This symbolizes that German and Jewish history are inseparable, violent and secret. The staircase leads to an underground site, composed of three hallways, called axis: The Axis of Death, leads to a concrete tower that has been left empty, called The Holocaust Tower; The Axis of Exile, which leads to an exterior square courtyard composed of concrete columns and that has been tilted in one of its corners, called The Garden of Exile; and The Axis of Continuity, that goes through the other two hallways, representing the permanence of Jews in Germany in spite of the Holocaust and the Exile. This axis leads to a staircase, which in turn leads to the main building. The entrance to the museum is intentionally made difficult and long to instill in the visitor the feeling of challenge and hardship that is distinctive of Jewish history.

The main building, even though it seems skewed and irregular in general, hides a straight but discontinuous line, marked by hollow concrete towers painted black, with little windows from which visitors only can see the other visitors in opposite windows. One of these towers was called the Memory Void for those affected by the Holocaust. Menashe Kadishman's 'Shalechet' ('Fallen leaves') installation filled this void with 10,000 coarsely made iron faces. Visitors are permitted to walk on the work. Doing so creates an almost 'industrial' noise, something with deep meaning.