Decades following its closure during the second world war, the Association for a Jewish Museum reinstated the Jewish culture of Berlin with their opening of the New Jewish Museum in 2001. Designed by the Poland-born Jewish architect Daniel Libeskind, the Jewish Museum takes on an emotionally dynamic approach towards the horror of Jewish life during the second world war. Every space is meticulously crafted for the senses of fear, anxiety, unease and salvation, to just name a few. The entire experience through the Jewish Museum is one that continues to change throughout its course, leaving one forever changed in perceptions of history and empathy.
The formal arrangement for the Jewish Museum is most simply explained as a straight (partially underground) line interrupted by three cross-paths. Each of these paths are represented as individual axises intended to display the three transitions of Jewish life as it was effected by the second world war. Libeskind went as far as naming them the Axis of Exile, Axis of the Holocaust and the Axis of Continuity. Each individual axis cuts through the initial underground passage and branches off into separate “voids”. These voids provide strong symbolic and emotional meaning to the Jewish Museum and Libeskind’s underlying concept.
Each of the voids hold their own character, architecture and symbolism. Three separate experiences are suggested by Libeskind. Having just recently visited the Jewish Museum, an account on my very own experience would seem most appropriate.
The first void I encountered at the Museum was the Holocaust Tower. A heavy pivoting door stood at the end of a long underground corridor. From the illuminated corridor I traversed the threshold of the door. The tower was a rectangular prism with one acutely angled corner. The walls seemed to extend so high as though to suggest they were meeting a dark midnight sky. The only, and and extremely minimal, daylight slipped into the space from a vertical slit along the acute corner of the tower.
Continuing into the Museum, I came across the Garden of Exile. Another long corridor, this time with a view of the exterior. A glass door separated the interior from the exterior. Forty-nine massive piers dominated the garden in a seven by seven grid. The groundline and columns were tilted at different angles, furthering the sense of distortion and confusion.
The last void was by far the most emotionally dynamic of the three experiences. The void, designed by Libeskind but installed by the Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman, was accurately named the Memory Void. Kadishman’s art installation comprises of some 10,000 steel “faces” that cover the floor of the void. The steel faces are a startling and eerie memorial to innocent victims of war and violence. Perhaps the most heightening experience was walking over these faces. With each step I was reminded of innocent lives, the faces I was currently stepping on and the clanking sounds of unsteady steel beneath my feet left a lasting impression on me.