Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Belated travel report: Berlin’s Jewish Museum

A friend following my travels over summer told me I simply must visit the Jewish Museum while in Berlin: “It’s just like the Hermitage in St Petersburg, only completely different”. I understood more fully later what he meant: both are places where it’s not only the collection which makes an impression, but what houses the exhibits is remarkable too.

Architect Daniel Libeskind (more recently the winner of the commission for the World Trade Center Ground Zero site) created a museum building of corridors, spaces and jagged windows providing plenty of food for thought beyond the displays and exhibitions themselves. Personally I spent a long time wandering and staring in the Memory Void with Menashe Kadishman’s installation Shalechet – a collection of heavy iron faces which visitors are encouraged to walk on (see pictures), fascinated as I was by both the clanks echoing off the concrete walls when I tiptoed across the faces alone and the different behaviour of museum visitors when faced with such an exhibition.

A great contrast to the tourist I observed while I browsed in the museum shop at the entrance. She rushed in with her tour group’s number stuck proudly to her shirt and demanded at the counter: “Is there a book that most people buy here? You know, about the museum? I don’t have time to look.” When the sales assistants didn’t reply – busy as they were with the customers who’d waited in a queue – she irritatedly said, “Oh, so you don’t speak English then.” The more patient of the assistants pointed out “the book that everyone buys” and took her money without a word. I guess she wasn’t one of the visitors who’d been clanking on the faces with me in the Memory Void.

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