Berlin today is a very positive and cheerful city. There is so much to see and do that it is easy for a visitor to avoid the negative aspects of Berlin and German history. Many people I know avoid to visit one place that was, to me, one of the highlights of my trip to Berlin: The Jewish Museum. I warn you, it is a mistake to miss this place!
Berlin today is a very cheerful and nice city. Its position in Europe and its past made it nowadays a truly cosmopolitan city. You can easily spend two weeks in Berlin, having the time of your life without paying much attention to its history. I know many people who rather not remember the dark moments of Berlin history when visiting this pleasant city and I understand. But there is one thing you can not miss, even if it will make you remember one of the worst moments of the history of humanity, the Holocaust. You MUST visit the Jewish Museum.
The Jewish Museum first got my attention because of the weird shape of the building. It was only when I visited it that I understood the museum is made of actually two buildings, an older one and a modern one, connected to each other.
The zigzag-shaped modern grey building was made by the architect Daniel Libeskind and it hosts the part of the museum dedicated to the Holocaust. The main attraction of the museum, the weird yet very impressive architecture of Libeskind, also hosts the part of history people don’t want to remember. Yet, to me, it is the best part of the whole museum.
What Libeskind tried to do — and I think he really achieved it — was to produce some kind of discomfort to the visitors that walk the long, dark corridors, seeing the belongings of the Jewish people that got arrested (or even worse). Wandering in this dark place and reading about the horrible stories can put a sad feeling to anyone, but there is a small detail that makes the whole experience even weirder: the building is slightly leaned. You just wont notice, it is very subtle… but you will feel there is something weird going on and a feeling of discomfort. I personally knew of this already, that was why this place was on the top of my things-not-to-miss-in-Berlin list.
Walking through the dark corridors where the visit to the Jewish Museum starts (they are actually three axes: the Axis of Continuity, the Axis of Emigration, and the Axis of the Holocaust), I read some stories about the people that lived those horrible times. Stories about children are the ones that touched me the most. One I will never forget is one close to the heart of every lomographer: the story of the photograph that a little Jewish boy took of his parents while they were packing to run away. Later, the camera was taken by the Nazis but he managed to save the film, so you can see the picture in the museum.
After a while in this dark and uncomfortable place, visiting a garden outside seems like a good idea. But the Garden of Exile in no common garden. First, it is made of 49 concrete parallelepiped and you can barely see the olive trees in top of it. But that is not all. According to the architect, the idea behind this garden is “to completely disorient the visitor.” And it sure does! The garden is not slightly leaned like the rest of the building, it is VERY inclined (12º, to be more precise). Yet, again… you can’t tell. Visually, I mean, it looks like a perfectly straight place. But, why did I feel like I was falling?! Many people won’t appreciate the experience, I guess. Well, I loved it! Be careful though, I think some people can actually feel very disoriented and even fall in this place.
Continuing the visit between the lines and voids of Libeskind’s building, you will encounter Menashe Kadishman installation, Shalechet (Fallen Leaves). About 10.000 iron faces are displayed in the ground of the Memory Void and you can actually walk over them. Again, a bit of a weird feeling as all the faces have a suffering expression. The sound produced by the people walking over the iron faces and making them clang is a very impressive part of the experience too.
The visit to the modern part of the museum ends with the stairs that connect it to the old building, the Court of Justice built in 1735 that hosts the exhibition Two Millennia of German Jewish History. EVERY single aspect of the Jewish culture, I believe, is displayed here. I mean, there is no way a normal human being is able to see and learn everything that is shown here. I would probably visit this museum more than once if I had the opportunity. This huge exhibition, although may tire you for the rest of the day, is quite informative and interactive, the kind of exhibition I appreciate. But it is just too much! One thing I wont forget, though, are the kosher gummy bears!
After this visit, everyone deserves a rest. The garden just outside the Glass Courtyard is the right place to do it if you visit Berlin on a warm Spring week like I did.
There is just one thing I should warn you about your trip to the Jewish Museum Berlin, especially if you are a lomographer: you will never take a straight picture in your life again!