Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Jewish Museum

464 words

While in Berlin, on the 31st, we visited the jewish museum in its spectacular new building by Daniel Libeskind. The building is quite exciting and gives a sense of disorientation when you're in there with angles and corners all over. It also looks quite dangerous from the outside due to its few and small windows. The disorientation is not a problem as the exhibition – on jewish history in Germany leads you through itself very naturally and easily. For my taste, the exhibition was a bit long around the middle, featuring too many exhibits about people I'd never heard of. Other bits were very interesting, my favourite being the display on hebrew (hebraic ?) writing (no surprises there... see below for more). The exhibition was also remarkably well-made. With everything seeming to have been done with good materials and attention to detail.

In the basement the museum has extra parts featuring a 'garden of exile' and the 'holocaust tower'. While both are architecturally stunning, the topics they claim to represent seemed a bit far-fetched to me. And while I find the whole building stunning as I pointed out above, I fail to see its point. I didn't have the impression that it improved the exhibition it hosts or that the exhibition makes the most out of having a very angular building. While I like cool and pretty things, seeing them be useful as well makes me have much more respect for them.

Another unfortunate fact about the museum seems to be its location. The side we approached it from, coming right from 'Checkpoint Charlie' with the famous You are now leaving the American sector... sign, you approach its modern and demanding building through a rather ugly and dull neighbourhood which doesn't do it justice.

À propos hebrew writing: While learning the letters shouldn't be a big deal, reading something seems much more tricky. There are no vowels and they used to be indicated with little dots around the letters. Unfortunately people seem to have decided by now that you don't really need those indicators for the vowels and these days Hebrew is written without. That in turn should raise the bar for being able to read from recognising the letters to actually knowing a bit (or even more) about the language. According to the little computer program they had in the exhibition offering to write your name in Hebrew, my name might be ספן or סון, (with the last one being modulo my bad memory as I didn't write it down right away) depending on whether the 'v' is soft or sharp. – A question I couldn't really decide. Strangely.

Oh, and I thought it was quite cool that the museum used the shape of their new buillding for their logo. That's refreshingly bold.

January 10, 2004, 3:03


Comment by nate: User icon

“While both are architecturally stunning, the topics they claim to represent seemed a bit far-fetched to me.”

I’m not quite sure what you mean by this. As I am interested in that museum and enjoyed what you wrote, would you care to explain?

Thanks! nate

January 10, 2004, 8:33

Comment by ssp: User icon


The ‘garden of exile and emigration’ consists of 7x7 stone pillars with oil trees growing out of their tops - far above your head. The earth in one of them is from Jerusalem while that in the others is local. Then they throw in some number mystery: 7 obviously is an important number for jews and christians. 1948 AD was the year the state of Israel, final destination for many emigrants, was founded, so they only needed to add 1, the central pillar, symbolising Berlin.

While the site itself is very cool - you’re outside, yet surrounded by walls, you can walk around the pillars, everything is slightly tilted – I think all this setting gives you is a sense of disorientation, which in turn is mainly due to the fact that the site itself is slightly tilted. In addition the pillars are nicely organised in a grid and thus not confusing at all. At least for me this did little to suggest the pain of having to emigrate or perhaps the hopes also associated with it.

Pretty much the same holds for the ‘holocaust tower’, a void surrounded by high walls, with a tiny opening on one side on the top. It’s rather dark and cold in there. I guess I can see what kind of feelings they are trying to trigger, but I don’t think this is at the same scale as the helplessness people must have felt facing the holocaust. (I’d say it can’t be - but for that reason I’d say ‘don’t try’ - at least not this explicitly).

In addition the whole experience is somewhat spoiled by people going in and out all the time, thus opening the door (very cool door, btw) and letting light in and the fact that you can simply leave when you start freezing. Perhaps locking the door for random amounts of time would be more efficient, but then again I don’t think that’s the point.

I think those two parts of the building are very cool and definitely worth seeing but I think they are over-loaded by the meanings they are supposed to transport. Perhaps just being a bit less explicit in designating their ‘meaning’ would have improved things quite a lot. Going into a cold dark place and thinking ‘gosh, this is intimidating’ while remembering a few things you’ve seen in the exhibition before will probably be much more impressive than entering a bit called ‘holocaust tower’ which will put your mind-frame firmly into place to begin with.

January 10, 2004, 14:44

Comment by nate: User icon

Thanks Sven. That helped a lot.

January 18, 2004, 8:08

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