The Jewish Museum is one hell of a masterpiece. The building per se is so powerful that most of what I felt in the museum was conveyed by the walls, the columns, the floors, the concrete, the void.
The contents are good stuff too. But to me, they were almost secondary. Daniel Libeskind, the architect, baptised his creation ‘Between the Lines’. One is a straight line, but broken into many fragments, the other is a tortuous line, but continuing indefinitely. At the intersections of these lines are empty spaces or “Voids”, which rise from the ground floor of the building up to the roof. They have walls of bare concrete and symbolise the absence of Jews, the emptiness left by the holocaust.
The Museum underground is made of 3 axes symbolizing three realities in the history of German Jews. The Axis of Continuity is the connecting path from which the other axes branch off. The “Axis of Emigration” leads outside to daylight and the Garden of Exile. The “Axis of the Holocaust” is a dead end. It becomes ever narrower and darker and ends at the Holocaust Tower, one of the voids.
The Holocaust tower is illuminated by a dim natural light coming from the ceiling. The rest is very dark. There is a ladder on the wall but it’s too high to be reached and leads to an obscure place. In the Memory Void, over 10,000 open-mouthed faces coarsely cut from heavy, circular iron plates cover the floor. It’s called “Shalechet” (Fallen Leaves) and the overwhelming installation was created by Menashe Kadishman, an Israeli artist.
When I was standing there, in front of all those “fallen leaves”, representing all the Jewish deaths during the Holocaust, I was puzzled. Were we meant to walk across it to continue the visit? The end of the void was so dark that I didn’t know where it would take me… I stood there not knowing what to do for a couple of minutes. And then I tried taking a step on the mass of faces. To see the open-mouths in terror and faces of soundless screams, and to listen to the jarring clanging sounds as thick metal pieces jostled against other sheet metal pieces was so disturbing that I had to turn back.
The garden of exile is made of forty-nine concrete stelae on a square plot. The whole garden feels like a maze and is on a 12° gradient so it disorients you, gives you a sense of the total lack of orientation. Like what those driven out of Germany must have felt.
Russian willow oak grows on top of the pillars symbolizing hope.
This visit was perhaps the most moving moment during my whole stay. I will return, the next time I’m in Berlin. The permanent exhibition is excellent but somehow I didn’t have enough time to pay it the proper attention. Being of Jewish origins, a fun moment was when my brother and I got Kosher Haribos and devoured them outside.