Jewish Museum Berlin

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The Libeskind-designed Jewish Museum Berlin
Outside of the Jewish Museum view

The Jewish Museum Berlin (Jüdisches Museum Berlin) was opened in 2001 and is the largest Jewish museum in Europe. It consists of three buildings, two of which are new additions specifically built for the museum by architect Daniel Libeskind. German-Jewish history is documented in the collections, the library and the archive, and is reflected in the museum's program of events. The museum is one of Germany's most frequented museums (more than 10.8 million visitors between 2001 and 2016).[1]

Jewish Museum Berlin 2012

Opposite the building ensemble, the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin was built – also after a design by Libeskind – in 2011/2012 in the former flower market hall. The archives, library, museum education department, a lecture hall and the Diaspora Garden can all be found in the academy.[2]


Arnold Zadikow's celebrated lost sculpture of The Young David that was placed in the entrance of the Museum in 1933

The first Jewish Museum in Berlin was founded on 24 January 1933, under the leadership of Karl Schwartz, six days before the Nazis officially gained power. The museum was built next to the Neue Synagoge on Oranienburger Straße and, in addition to curating Jewish history, also featured collections of modern Jewish art. Schwartz intended the museum as a means to revitalise Jewish creativity, and to demonstrate that Jewish history was living history.[3] The museum's art collection was also seen as a contribution to German art history and one of the last exhibitions to be held was a retrospective of the German impressionist, Ernst Oppler in 1937.[4] To reflect this focus on living history, the entrance hall of the museum both contained busts of prominent German Jews, such as Moses Mendelssohn and Abraham Geiger, and also a number of works by contemporary Jewish artists such as Arnold Zadikow and Lesser Ury.[3]

On 10 November 1938, during the 'November Pogroms', known as Kristallnacht, the museum was shut down by the Gestapo, and the museum's inventory was confiscated.[3] In 1976 a "Society for a Jewish Museum" formed and, three years later, the Berlin Museum, which chronicled the city's history, established a Jewish Department,[5] but already, discussions about constructing a new museum dedicated to Jewish history in Berlin were being held.[6]

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" ("Lightning").[7]

Construction on the new extension to the Berlin Museum began in November 1992.[5] The empty museum was completed in 1999 and attracted over 350,000 people before it was filled and opened on 9 September 2001.[8][9]


Oleaster in the Garden of Exile with the Museum's main building in the background

The Jewish Museum Berlin is located in what was West Berlin before the fall of the Wall.[10] Essentially, it consists of two buildings – a baroque old building, the “Kollegienhaus” (that formerly housed the Berlin Museum) and a new, deconstructivist-style building by Libeskind. The two buildings have no visible connection above ground. The Libeskind building, consisting of about 161,000 square feet (15,000 square meters), is a twisted zig-zag and is accessible only via an underground passage from the old building.[9][11]

For Libeskind,

The new design, which was created a year before the Berlin Wall came down, was based on three conceptions that formed the museum’s foundation: first, the impossibility of understanding the history of Berlin without understanding the enormous intellectual, economic and cultural contribution made by the Jewish citizens of Berlin, second, the necessity to integrate physically and spiritually the meaning of the Holocaust into the consciousness and memory of the city of Berlin. Third, that only through the acknowledgement and incorporation of this erasure and void of Jewish life in Berlin, can the history of Berlin and Europe have a human future.[12]

A line of "Voids", empty spaces about 66 feet (20 m) tall, slices linearly through the entire building. Such voids represent "That which can never be exhibited when it comes to Jewish Berlin history: Humanity reduced to ashes."[9][11][13]

Academy of The Jewish Museum Berlin.

In the basement, visitors first encounter three intersecting, slanting corridors named the "Axes." Here a similarity to Libeskind's first building – the Felix Nussbaum Haus – is apparent, which is also divided into three areas with different meanings. In Berlin, the three axes symbolize three paths of Jewish life in Germany – continuity in German history, emigration from Germany, and the Holocaust.[11][13]

The second axis connects the Museum proper to 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.[11][13]

In recent years, Libeskind has designed two structural extensions: a covering made of glass and steel for the "Kollegienhaus" courtyard (2007),[14] and the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy of the Jewish Museum in a rectangular, 2,700 sq ft (250 m2) 1960s flower market hall on the opposite side of the street (2012).[13][15][16]

In 2016, a jury appointed by the Jewish Museum Berlin awarded the first prize in an architectural competition for a new €3.44 million children's museum for 5 to 12 year-olds to Olson Kundig Architects; the second prize was awarded to the Berlin firm Staab Architekten and third prize to Michael Wallraff of Vienna. The planned children's museum will be housed in the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy and is scheduled to open in spring 2020.[16][17]


Permanent exhibition[edit]

Since 11 December 2017, the permanent exhibition has been under reconstruction. Visitors still have access to the axes in the basement of the Libeskind Building, the Garden of Exile, and the Voids. The new permanent exhibition is expected to open in spring 2020.[18]

The permanent exhibition "Two Millennia of German Jewish History" presented Germany through the eyes of the Jewish minority. The exhibition began with displays of medieval settlements along the Rhine, in particular in Speyer, Worms and Mayence. The Baroque period was regarded through the lens of Glikl bas Judah Leib (1646–1724, also known as Glückel von Hameln), who left a diary detailing her life as a Jewish business woman in Hamburg. The intellectual and personal legacies of philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786) were next; both figures were flanked by depictions of Jews in court and country. The Age of Emancipation in the nineteenth century was presented as a time of optimism, achievement and prosperity, though setbacks and disappointments were displayed as well. German-Jewish soldiers fighting for their country in World War I stood at the beginning of the twentieth century. One focus of the exhibition was Berlin and its development into a European metropolis. The Jews living here as merchants and entrepreneurs, scientists and artists, were pioneers of the modern age.[19][20]

In the section on National Socialism, emphasis was placed on the ways in which Jews reacted to the increasing discrimination against them, such as founding Jewish schools and social services. After the Shoah, 250 000 survivors waited in “Displaced Persons” camps for the possibility to emigrate. At the same time, small Jewish communities in West and East were forming. Towards the end of the exhibition, two major Nazi trials of the post-war period were examined – the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial (1963-1965) and the Majdanek trial in Düsseldorf (1975-1981). The exhibition tour concluded with an audio installation of people who grew up in Germany reporting on their childhood and youth after 1945. A new chapter of Jewish life in Germany began with them.[19][20][21]

Special exhibitions[edit]

Changing exhibitions present a broad range of themes, eras and genres. Notable exhibitions are: Welcome to Jerusalem (2017-2019); Cherchez la femme (2017); Golem (2016-2017); Snip it! Stances on Ritual Circumcision (2014-2015); A Time for Everything. Rituals Against Forgetting (2013-2014); The Whole Truth … everything you always wanted to know about Jews (2013); Obsessions (2012–2013); How German is it? 30 Artists' Notion of Home (2011–2012); Kosher & Co: On Food and Religion (2009–2010); Looting and Restitution: Jewish-Owned Cultural Artifacts from 1933 to the Present (2008–2009); Typical!: Clichés about Jews and Others (2008); Home and Exile: Jewish Emigration from Germany since 1933 (2006–2007); Chrismukkah: Stories of Christmas and Hanukkah (2005–2006); 10+5=God (2004); and Counterpoint: The Architecture of Daniel Libeskind (2003).[9][13][19][20][21]

Permanent installations[edit]

Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman created the installation Shalekhet – Fallen leaves, 10 000 faces punched out of steel and distributed on the ground of the Memory Void, the only "voided"[clarification needed] space of the Libeskind Building that can be entered. Kadishman dedicated his artwork not only to Jews killed during the Shoah, but to all victims of violence and war. Visitors are invited to walk on the faces and listen to the sounds created by the metal sheets, as they clang and rattle against one another.

Other art installations exhibited permanently in the museum are by Arnold Dreyblatt, Minka Hauschild, and Via Lewandowsky.[9][19][21]

Collections and archives[edit]

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 Münster 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. The library comprises 100 000 media on Jewish life in Germany and abroad.[19][20]

The Leo Baeck Institute archive[edit]

Since September 2001, there has been a branch of the archive of the New York Leo Baeck Institute[22] at the Jewish Museum. The LBI has its principal office in New York and holds the most comprehensive collection of materials on the history of Jews in Germany, Austria, and other German-speaking areas in Central Europe of the last 300 years – including about one million documents such as local authority records, personal documents, correspondence, a photo archive as well as numerous testimonies from religious, social, cultural, intellectual, political, and economic life. The collection of more than 1,200 memoirs of German-speaking Jews (also and especially from the post-Nazi era) is unique.[13][19][20][21]

Other facilities[edit]

Rafael Roth Gallery[edit]

The Rafael Roth Gallery is located in the basement of the Jewish Museum Berlin. It is named after the Berlin real estate entrepreneur and patron Rafael Roth [de] (1933-2013).[9][19][20][21] Until March 2017, Jewish history was presented in a multimedia and interactive way at 17 computer terminals for individual visitors and groups. Under the headings of "Things", "Stories", and "Faces", visitors were introduced to special highlights of the collection and to deepen their knowledge in larger-scale virtual exhibitions – for example on the life story of Albert Einstein or Eastern European immigration between 1880 and 1924. Video interviews offered insight into Jewish life in Germany today.

The W. Michael Blumenthal Academy[edit]

The Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin was opened in 2012 to create a place of research and discussion that goes beyond Jewish history and present, expanding the museum's spectrum to include the themes of migration and diversity. Its aim is to serve as a "platform for analysis and discussion about Germany as an immigration destination and the emerging pluralistic society."[13][19][20][21][23]



The Jewish Museum Berlin Foundation receives an annual grant from the funds of the Federal Government Commissioner for Cultural Affairs and the Media; this covers around three-quarters of its total budget. The remaining funds are raised primarily through donations and ticket sales.[24]


Prize for Understanding and Tolerance[edit]

Since 2002, the Jewish Museum Berlin and the Friends and Patrons of the Jewish Museum Berlin have presented the annual Prize for Understanding and Tolerance.[27] Past recipients included:


By 2019, the museum was dubbed the "Anti-Jewish Museum" due to hosting a series of speakers favorable to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.[28][29][30] In February 2019, the German government indicated that it would take steps to prevent the museum becoming a platform for BDS.[31] In June 2019, then-director Schäfer used the museum's official Twitter account to retweet a call by 240 Jewish and Israeli academics for the German government to not equate BDS with anti-Semitism, to protect freedom of expression and assembly, and to fight anti-Semitism. Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said, "Under these circumstances, one has to think about whether the term ‘Jewish’ is still appropriate." Schäfer resigned a week later "to avoid further damage".[32][33]


  • Van Uffelen, Chris. Contemporary Museums – Architecture, History, Collections, Braun Publishing, 2010; ISBN 978-3-03768-067-4, pp. 214–17.
  • Simon, H. (2000). Das Berliner Jüdische Museum in der Oranienburger Strasse: Geschichte einer zerstörten Kulturstätte. Hentrich & Hentrich.
  • Brenner, M. (1999). Jewish Culture in Contemporary America and Weimar Germany: Parallels and Differences. Central European University Jewish Studies Yearbook, 2(2).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Biennial Report of the Jewish Museum Berlin 2015-2016" (PDF). Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  2. ^ Rosenfield, Karissa (17 November 2012). "Daniel Libeskind's Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin Opens Today". ArchDaily.
  3. ^ a b c Brenner, Michael (1999). "Jewish Culture in Contemporary America and Weimar Germany: Parallels and Differences" (PDF). Central European University Jewish Studies Yearbook. 2 (2): 1–16.
  4. ^ Simon, Hermann (2000). Das Berliner Jüdische Museum in der Oranienburger Strasse: Geschichte einer zerstörten Kulturstätte. Berlin: Hentrich & Hentrich. ISBN 9783933471147.
  5. ^ a b Jewish Museum Berlin. "Presentation of the history of the museum on the Jewish Museum Berlin website, part 1: Background". Archived from the original on 9 December 2014. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  6. ^ Jewish Museum Berlin. "Presentation of the history of the museum on the Jewish Museum Berlin website, part 2: Controversies and Contradictions". Archived from the original on 9 December 2014. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  7. ^ Breslau, Karen (3 February 1992). "The New Face of Berlin". Newsweek. pp. 60–62.
  8. ^ Jewish Museum Berlin. "A Perfectly Normal Museum?". Archived from the original on 9 December 2014. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Jewish Museum Berlin. "Daniel Libeskind, Jewish Museum Berlin". Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  10. ^ "Berlin Wall Trail". Archived from the original on 5 December 2014. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  11. ^ a b c d Jewish Museum Berlin. "Information about the architecture". Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  12. ^ Jewish Museum Berlin part 2. "Daniel Libeskind, Jewish Museum Part 2". Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Daniel Libeskind - Jüdisches Museum Berlin, by Elke Dorner. Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 3. Auflage 2006; ISBN 3-7861-2532-5. (in German)
  14. ^ Jewish Museum Berlin. "Information about the design and creation of the glass courtyard". Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  15. ^ Jewish Museum Berlin. "Information about the design and creation of the academy". Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  16. ^ a b Sophie Lovell (September 26, 2019), Olson Kundig’s children’s museum at Jewish Museum Berlin is inspired by Noah’s Ark Wallpaper.
  17. ^ Hickley, Catherine (11 August 2016). "Berlin plans Jewish museum for children inspired by Noah's Ark". The Art Newspaper. Archived from the original on 15 August 2016. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  18. ^ "We're Planning A New Permanent Exhibition". Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h Stiftung Jüdisches Museum Berlin. Stories of an exhibition: two millennia of German Jewish history, Proprietas-Verlag, Berlin 2001; ISBN 3-00-008299-9.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g Jewish Museum Berlin. "List of all special exhibitions on the museum's website". Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Stiftung Jüdisches Museum Berlin. Highlights from the Jewish Museum Berlin, Nicolai-Verlag, Berlin 2010; ISBN 978-3-89479-607-5.
  22. ^ Leo Baeck Institute New York website; accessed 9 December 2014.
  23. ^ Jewish Museum Berlin. "Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin". Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  24. ^ About the organisation Jewish Museum Berlin.
  25. ^ "Directors". Jewish Museum Berlin. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  26. ^ Mitteilung des Stiftungsrats: Hetty Berg wird neue Direktorin des Jüdischen Museums, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, November 26, 2019.
  27. ^ Prize for Understanding and Tolerance Jewish Museum Berlin.
  28. ^ Wienthal, Benjamin (9 June 2019). "'Anti-Jewish' Museum in Berlin under fire for supporting BDS". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  29. ^ Weinthal, Benjamin (4 April 2013). "The Jew in a Box". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  30. ^ "Beware of tikkunism and tikkunistas". The Canadian Jewish News. 30 September 2012. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  31. ^ "Germany vows to prevent BDS activity at Berlin Jewish museum". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  32. ^ "Director of Jewish Museum in Berlin resigns after BDS-linked tweet sparks uproar". Israel Hayom. Associated Press. 16 June 2019. Retrieved 16 June 2019.
  33. ^ "Berlin Jewish Museum director resigns over Tweet endorsing antisemitic BDS - Diaspora - Jerusalem Post". The Jerusalem Post.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°30′07″N 13°23′42″E / 52.502°N 13.395°E / 52.502; 13.395