Saturday, December 02, 2006


Finally The Jewish Museum

I've wanted to see Daniel Libeskind's building for the Jewish Museum since it opened in 1998, but even so I didn't rush to get there, I dragged my feet. I got a little lost, must have walked past the signpost and unexpectedly ended up at checkpoint Charlie instead. We'd gone through on the school trip and a friend had had film confiscated after she'd taken a picture at the crossing, so I was struck by how something so serious and scary then, was now just a tourist attraction. Grim Eastern block buildings and cars, a cliché I know, marked the contrast between East and West then. I walked through and looked up at the shiny new buildings. Then I headed back the way I came, but still couldn't work out where the Museum was. A man on a bike stopped and shouted something in German to me; I proudly managed a German response.

So there it was across the road.

In the basement of Libeskind's building are three intersecting axes, one leading to the Garden of Exile and Emigration, whilst another leads to the Holocaust Tower and a third to a long steep staircase up to where the exhibition starts and represents the difficult road to a reemergence of Jewish life in Germany. In the Garden there are tall concrete posts, which I walked between on uneven ground, finding it hard to keep my balance, but it is outside, there is air and light and olive trees shade it. In the Tower there is a never ending darkness broken only by a single split window so high it is completely out of reach, but giving just enough light to see and feel the awful isolation, fear, and complete desolation. Libeskind is brilliant; his building says everything, without words, or exhibits, speaking directly to my emotions.

I walk up the steep staircase to the permanent exhibition, I know from friends that this might well disappointment me, but I hope to be surprised. When I finish the exhibition what I'm left with is a dawning reality that a history really was destroyed. There are just not enough exhibits to tell the story properly, either the museum did not understand what was needed or that all the artifacts really were destroyed and perhaps there was a resistance from exiles to send family possessions back. I don't know, just that again I left with an incomplete picture of Jewish history in Germany and a growing frustration.

Links abound; the last book I ever gave my father was Amos Elon's The Pity of It All a history of German Jewry. I was reminded of it a couple of weeks ago, because Another Road Home was by his daughter and she films her father at a book reading. So now I will dig it out in the hope that it can fill in some of the blank spaces.


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