The landscape of Berlin: The Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum
“During the construction of Daniel Libeskind’s new Jewish Museum with its zinc-clad exterior – seen from above it looks like a silver lightning-bolt – two children were overheard discussing the site. “This is not a building”, the boy said. “Of course it’s a building”, the girl replied,” look at all the construction vehicles, over there the truck and there the bulldozer. It just has to be a building.” Still, the boy was doubtful: “I’ve never seen a building like that.”-


Placing the Jewish Museum within Berlin landscape is a complex one; this is because the architecture extends beyond the limit of the building itself. “Generally speaking, a museum resists being treated as an individual building isolated from its environment: it functions as a container in which information about the past- and about how future is to relate to this past- is collected and organised as singular, irreproducible artifacts.” (Lindner 2006:137).  If the function of the museum coincides with the container’s structure, it can take on the new form of a monument, “a place generating for humanity, its collective conscience” (Lindner 2006:137).

Daniel Libeskind’s the Jewish Museum has perhaps therefore become a monument in its own right as Huyssen has stated it as being the ”architecture of memory” (Lindner 2006:137).  Libeskind incorporated Jewish history into its structure by invoking personal biographical and civic cultural history, however the building of memories must be contained and never fully open. “The face that memory’s accessibility can be limited by design, however, remains in tension with the idea that the building of memory depends on the readiness of a generation to construct an enduring edifice to house its memory work “ (Lindner 2006:137), in other words, the readiness of the architecture in its acceptance of the context. The building’s acceptance underlies not only the German peoples relation to the Jewish Museum, but also the architect of the city of Berlin, of which must be achieved through the avant-garde architecture of the building itself.

The Jewish Museum

Derrida asks, “Is the museum for if not to transmit tradition, history, and memory through a collection of examples- in short, to obey a metonymic rule of historiography and referentiality? Yet, how does the architect reconcile that duty with his responsibility, and risk, of being avant-garde? For only by not reproducing structures of the old can one give uniqueness and singularity to the past” (Lindner 2006:138).  Therefore, Derrida is suggesting that “logic of exemplarity” (Lindner 2006:138) is the source of the problem with the architecture of the museum due to it extending beyond its architecture, and into the complex political landscape of Berlin. Due to Berlin being an internally divided city, Derrida explains (1992), “Berlin was exemplarity of the divided world, all of all divided cities in the world. Berlin’s exemplarity was, at the time, itself exemplary of the logic by which every people and every nation justify their avant-garde structure by claiming to be the avant-garde, a claim made on the ground that, in their singularity, they ‘are witnessing universality, and bear the responsibility for the universal, for humanity as such” (Lindner 2006:138).  Derrida explains the logic behind this claim with the reference of the Holocaust in mind, “circumscribes a nationalist and theological space and thereby reconstitutes a discourse that, by virtue of its intent to establish continuity, comes into conflict with the discontinuity of the events that the museum is achieving” (Lindner 2006:138). Yet, due to these exemplarities, it enables the opportunity for a stranger to gain access to an experience or a memory of which is key to a museumgoer through the arrangement of artifacts.  But “is a landscape of exemplarity, that of a divided Berlin, necessary for the experience sealed in an artefact to be accessible to those who never did and never will ‘belong’ to the artefact in the same way the those who ‘belonged’ to the artefact?” (Lindner 2006:138).

By Rebecca Holland


Lindner, C (2006) Urban Space and Cityscapes: Perspectives from Modern and Contemporary Culture

Oxon: Routledge





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