Jewish Museum Berlin is one of the largest Jewish Museums in Europe. In three buildings, two of which are new additions specifically built for the museum by architect Daniel Libeskind, two millennia of German-Jewish history are on display in the permanent exhibition as well as in various changing exhibitions.
In 1988, the Berlin government announced an anonymous competition for the new museum’s design. A year later, Daniel Libeskind’s design was chosen by the committee for what was then planned as a “Jewish Department” for the Berlin Museum.
While other entrants proposed cool, neutral spaces, Libeskind offered a radical, zigzag design, which earned the nickname “Blitz”.The first axis ends at a long staircase that leads to the permanent exhibition.
The second axis connects the Museum proper to the E.T.A. Hoffmann Garden, or The Garden of Exile, whose foundation is tilted. The Garden’s oleaster grows out of reach, atop 49 tall pillars. The third axis leads from the Museum to the Holocaust Tower, a 79 foot (24 m) tall empty silo. The bare concrete Tower is neither heated nor cooled, and its only light comes from a small slit in its roof. The Jewish Museum Berlin was Libeskind’s first major international success.
The Jewish Museum’s collections date back to the 1970s, when the Society for a Jewish Museum formed. The first acquisitions were Jewish ceremonial artworks belonging to the Munster Cantor Zvi Sofer.
Soon, fine art, photography and family memorabilia were acquired. The collection is now divided into four areas: ceremonial objects and applied arts, fine arts, photography, and lastly, everyday culture.
The museum archive safeguards over 1,500 family bequests, in particular from the eras of the Empire, the First World War, and Nazism. Many Jews who were born in Berlin and had emigrated during the Nazi period joined the society and contributed significantly to the building of the collection.
In 1978, the Berlin Museum presented for the first time the new acquisitions for the future Jewish Museum. In 1979, the cultural anthropologist Dr. Vera Bendt was appointed to head the Jewish Department and establish the Jewish Museum.
In 1984, an exhibition room on the ground floor of the Berlin Museum was made available to the Jewish Department and in 1986, three rooms on the second floor of the Martin-Gropius-Bau. Up until 1998, the permanent exhibition of the “Jewish Department” was shown in two rooms while a further room displayed changing exhibitions on German-Jewish themes.
The original Jewish Museum in Berlin was established in 1933, but it wasn’t open very long before it was closed during Nazi rule in 1938. Unfortunately, the museum remained vacant until 1975 when a Jewish cultural group vowed to reopen the museum attempting to bring a Jewish presence back to Berlin.
It wouldn’t be until 2001 when Libeskind’s addition to the Jewish Museum finally opened (completed in 1999) that the museum would finally establish a Jewish presence embedded culturally and socially in Berlin.
From the exterior, the interior looks as if it will be similar to the exterior perimeter; however, the interior spaces are extremely complex. Libeskind’s formulated promenade leads people through galleries, empty spaces, and dead ends.
A significant portion o f the extension is void of windows and difference in materiality. The interior is composed of reinforced concrete which reinforces the moments of the empty spaces and dead ends where only a sliver of light is entering the space.