If there’s any award for having the most backlog, I’m pretty sure I’ll win it. So, here I am today trying to lessen my load. One article at a time. Today, I’ll be sharing about my visit to the Jewish Museum Berlin. My husband Alvin and I have been saving the museums for winter. We wanted to savour the sun all throughout summer (and what’s left of it in autumn) by exploring the city. However, when my friend Armi visited in August and said she wanted to see this museum in particular, I knew I had to go with her.
Alvin was jealous, of course. However, I promised I’d go back with him once the weather calls for more indoor activities.
Armi and I went on a weekday at around 10:30 in the morning. Lines were already quite long, especially for the cloak room where visitors are made to leave big bags and backpacks. Security is also pretty strict in the building so make sure you think of that too when planning and budgeting time for your visit.
Architecture of the Jewish Museum Berlin
One of the first things visitors notice about the museum is the beautiful mix of classic and modern architecture. The Libeskind Building was the first thing we saw, coming from one of the museum’s side streets that lead to an Ubahn station.
The tall, dark, and rather imposing building zig-zags through the garden. It was designed by American architect Daniel Libeskind who calls it ‘Between the Lines‘. Much like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, it leaves people confused and evokes a feeling of restlessness as you look at it. Inside, the feeling multiplies and rather consumes you. But I’ll get to that later.
Visiting the museum means you’ll be entering through the Old Baroque Building. This was the former Collegienhaus (Supreme Court building) and was built in the 1700s. This is where you’ll buy your tickets and go through security. The museum shop and the café are also here along with rooms for special exhibitions.
The Glass Courtyard was also designed by Libeskind, giving a nod to the Jewish harvest festival called Feast of the Tabernacle. In Hebrew, they say Sukkot. The glass panels open to the beautiful gardens just outside. Sadly, it was a quite a rainy summer day so exploring the garden further would have to be on another visit.
Once you show your ticket to the staff member, you will be asked to descend a long, uneven staircase. It’s a little dark and you don’t actually see where it leads you. This is how your journey into a dark, hurtful past begins.
You’ll then find yourself in a long tunnel that branches into smaller ones leading to other exhibitions. It’s quite easy to get lost here but thankfully, there are enough signs. Just look up at the walls around tunnel intersections and you should be fine. Some of the walls are just long and bare, giving you a sense of emptiness. Despite the group of students we were exploring the tunnels with that day, it was quite easy to feel alone.
Here in the underground tunnels (Axis of Exile, Axis of the Holocaust), you’ll find personal items of Jewish people who were killed during the Holocaust. They come with stories, letters, and some facts about the people who owned them. I won’t be posting a lot of these photos so as not to spoil your visit. But believe me when I say you’ll have to really toughen up not to cry while reading about the items on display.
At the end of one of the tunnels is the Holocaust Turm (Holocaust Tower). Outside, it’s seen as an isolated structure. The only access to it is through a heavy door at the end of one of the tunnels. Inside, there is nothing. A bare, empty room with a sliver of daylight penetrating through a small crack high up the walls.
This is one of my favourite parts of the museum. People are just standing, looking up. The longer you stay in the room, the more you feel the hopelessness and the oppression the Jews felt back then.
Cherchez la femme
Up the stairs we went towards the rest of the exhibits. That day, we were lucky to chance upon Cherchez la femme, an exhibit that ran from March till August of 2017.
The exhibit showed the various ways women covered their hair in different parts of the globe and at different times in history. Both traditional and modern ideas were presented as well as how women who cover their hair for religious reasons incorporate their traditions with modern fashion.
Personally, I found it very interesting as this is something that I feel strongly about. I do love hats myself and have used a silk scarf to cover my hair while travelling to keep it from frizzing up. I’ve also tucked my hair in a turban-style beanie to keep it from being rained on and I enjoyed how that looked on me.
I only cover my hair for fashion or to tame my curls but at the same time, I respect women who do this for religious reasons. As long as women choose to cover and are not forced into doing so, then I’m ok with it. Just my two cents.
I have some friends back in Malaysia who have chosen to cover their hair and I love how they style their tudungs. Some of them even taught me how to do it in what they call ‘Audrey Hepburn style’. It looked utterly fabulous on every single woman who tried it out that day.
Beyond the Holocaust
Just in case I haven’t mentioned it, the Jewish Museum Berlin is not a place for heels. Thank goodness I was wearing my trusty Stan Smiths that day. There’s a lot of walking and going up and down the stairs. The staircases are also high, narrow, and steep. So I would highly recommend wearing comfy shoes.
The museum doesn’t just focus on the Holocaust. It also talks about the daily lives of the Jews before and after World War II. Businessmen, doctors, lawyers – professionals. People who loved art and had careers and lives before the war. People who were able to pick themselves up after such a tragedy started by one, evil man.
The museum also talks about how such atrocities should not be repeated. Some of the exhibits are even interactive – a great way to teach the younger generation lessons from the past.
Thinking of buying a souvenir? Armi and I each bought small artworks made by Jewish artists to support the community in Berlin. And they only cost EUR2. You get them from a vendo machine at one of the Libeskind Building’s higher floors.
The catch is you don’t know what kind of art you’ll be getting. I got one that’s functional which made me very happy. It was a set of wine glass markers in the shape of dreidels designed by Shai Keren in 2013. Will definitely be using them next time we host a dinner at home.
Jewish Museum Berlin
Hours: Open daily from 10 am to 8pm (Mondays, till 10pm)
Closed on Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah
Tickets: EUR8 for adults, students pay EUR3, and children up to six years old can enter for free
Audio guides can be rented EUR3 each
Address: Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin
Nearest Ubahn station: Bahnhof Hallesches Tor