In many parts of Europe and the United States you will find a Jewish Museum. However, it will evoke different feelings and images when we talk about a Jewish Museum in the capital of Germany, Berlin… To establish the museum in the epicenter of the holocaust, there was held an architecture competition in 1989. Daniel Libeskind, the American architecture who was born in Poland and lost his family in Nazi holocaust won the competition. He also remains on the agenda, being the chief architect of the buildings which will be built on the area that’s been cleared by 9/11 and thus called as”Ground Zero”.
Construction of the Berlin Jewish Museum took 10 years. The reason for this is controversial processes in Berlin Senate and various institutions. Though its official name is”Jewish Museum”, Daniel Libeskind names his project as”Between the Lines”. Line, has a meaning of”family-lineage”, besides its first meanings… On the other side, the building has a zig-zag lined form when viewed from external, especially from above; this form is said to be the deformed star of David. The museum building has cracked lines on its exterior symbolizing the genocide of Jewish lineage; however, when you walk inside the building, nothing disturbs you, expressing continuity and the hope of a better future.
The architect Libeskind had defined the museum 10 years ago“like other museums, with white walls where pictures can be hung and objects exhibited.” (Daniel Libeskind, 2000)What made him say so was perhaps the desire to stop controversy discussions about the building even when it was still under construction. And why we interpret his definitive comment like above can be understood easily by those who already visited the museum: it’s not really”just a museum”… Besides the objects, paintings and photographs exhibited, the place can make you a”participative visitor” even when you are just walking inside with its architectural characteristics.
Berlin Jewish Museum was designed as an addition next to a Courthouse remained from 18th century. Entrance of the museum is from this building, passing through an underground tunnel and climbing steep stairs. No such connection can be seen between two buildings from outside. The visitors headed to downstairs first encounter with an underground passage where 19 genocide stories of German Jews are told. At the end of the passage, the way is separated into two corridors leading you two different places. One of the corridors will lead you to”Holocaust Void”. When you open the heavy, iron door, you will enter a room reminding a pyramid with high and dark, gray walls which make you feel tiny and alone. The area which is cold in winter and humid in summer is enlightened only with a bunch of lights coming from a narrow crack above. The place creates a tension with its light, space, color and sound/silence and makes you feel unsafe and experience the disturbance of isolation.
The other corridor leads you to a garden; but this garden is not one of those that will relieve you. Libeskind uses many symbols here, too. The garden,”The Garden of Exile”, built on a slant, stony ground that reminds a choppy sea is 12 meters high and has 49 concrete columns. 48 of the columns were filled with soil from Berlin and this refers to the foundation of state of Israel in 1948. And the last column was filled with soil from Jerusalem. With these columns and plants planted on the soil inside the columns in addition to the place’s itself, it is aimed to enshrine German Jews who had to leave their country in years of genocide and rebuilt their lives in foreign countries.
The third section of the museum,“The Stairs of Continuity” is the exhibition areas to which one can arrive by steep stairs and elevators. Just like others, this passage, too, has a dramatic air with the light and shadow that narrow windows with sharp lines create. The exhibition has many objects such as paintings, photos, personal belongings, sculptures, sound records, movies, newspaper clippings, signboards, flyers, biographies, encrypted messages, letters, postcards, toys, notification letters which tell the story of 2000 years of Jews in Germany, from ancient ages to the genocide.
The symbols Daniel Libeskind, all of whose projects have a meaningful story, used in Berlin Jewish Museum and the usage of place make the individual an active visitor, sticking in one’s mind as the symbol of hope and a monument of history…