Jewish Museum of Berlin: Architecture

Today we visited the Jewish Museum of Berlin for the second time, we returned to focus on the architecture that makes this building and exhibition so unique. This building launched the career of architect, Daniel Liebeskind, who was formerly a classically trained musician and artist who made the switch to architecture. He is now known worldwide for his work, one of his most well known contemporary works being the 9/11 memorial, also known as the One World Trade Center.

From the day the Jewish Museum of Berlin opened in 2001, only days after the 9/11 attacks, it has faced throngs of criticism and praise from peers and visitors the world over. The immense popularity of the museum, which has seen over 7 million visitors since its doors opened, can be attributed mostly to its unique architecture. Since before it opened, its abstract facade has stirred controversy. Leibeskind has dubbed the nature of the “Zig-Zag” design of the building as “Irrational Lines” complemented by a parallel line of windows that form a straight line across the roof. This concept that has created countless myths and rumors surrounding the meaning of this abstract artistic choice. People have fielded guesses that the shape is supposed to symbolize a shattered Star of David, where others see it as a destroyed swastika.

When commenting on his artistic direction he took with the building, Liebeskind dispelled these rumors by stating “What is significant about the architecture is what you get from it,” leaving the question of interpretation up to us as visitors. One interpretation Liebeskind has offered is that the irrational matrix is his own way of completing Arnold Schönberg’s unfinished opera “Moses and Aron”. Moses representing the straight lines of the building, through his direct line of communication with God, and Aron representing the zig-zags for interpreting Mose’s word for the people and working around the complex intricacies of his words; counter arguments have been offered in this vein but ultimately Liebeskind wants people to form their own opinions about the shape of the building.

There are some abstract elements he admits are forms of symbolism, the first of which being the location. The Jewish Museum is located adjacent to the old Berlin Museum, Liebeskind made the decision to conjoin the new museum with the old, but not directly. The significance behind keeping the old building was said to be that Berlin’s history is also a Jewish history and combining the two was the best way to draw this connection. Second, the buildings are connected only by an underground passage, so from street level they appear to be separate buildings, this separation showing a new start for the Jews of Germany and Europe as a whole. The outside facade is made of Zinc, an element known for its healing properties, thus symbolizing a healing of the wounds left by the Shoah. Once inside, the visitor will notice large voids in the interior, these voids are spaces in the building meant to, as of now, be left empty both to symbolize what was lost, and what can begin anew in this void.

Though his technique and execution of this design have faced criticism, the unique construction of this building pushes the limits of “experience based architecture” and gives the visitor an experience unparalleled by any other museum of its type.

A model to show the architecture of the museum.
A view of the glass atrium which used to be an outdoors courtyard.