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Day 3 (Berlin)

May 11, 2012

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Jewish Museum Berlin

If there has ever been a museum to take me completely by surprise, it is the Jüdisches Museum Berlin, or the Berlin Jewish Museum.  To be perfectly honest, prior to our visit I was unsure as to whether or not it would be interesting or tactful.  Since I had no expectations as having never been to such a museum before, it could have run the gamut– tactless, brazenly histrionic, dull, informative, interactive, touching, etc.  What made this one of the best museum visits I’ve ever had however, was our tour guide.

Museum Exhibition EntranceI am absolutely in awe of the building’s architecture.  A descent on the stairway leads into a hall with angular walls and slanted walkways which causes one to stop and question: “where do I start and where do I go without anyone directing me in a proper direction?”.  Our tour guide’s passionate lecture brought the odd walls and walkways into perspective.  She explained that confusion is the very first reaction a visitor feels upon making the trip down into the museum.  There is no correct direction, just as there was no right path to take when the Jews began experiencing the waves of antisemitism in the 30s and 40s.  I thought it all ingenious until I walked into the Garden of Exile where I was truly in awe.  The steeply slanted walkways with the jutting columns was similar in layout to the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, but seemed to focus more on the confusion of waxing prejudice and uprooted lives during the 30s and 40s.  In some ways it was quite uncomfortable walking around the Garden of Exile because it took so much effort to climb up the cobblestone path only to have to watch your steps as you quickly walked down in an uncontrolled manner.  It was as disorienting as the history it represented.

The tour ended very appropriately with the Memory Void, a true denkmal.   A denkmal is often translated as “monument”, but it refers more to a point of reflection because the nature of the object before you is one that induces all kinds of thought.  Here at this point of reflection, 10,000 stylized faces covered the floor representing murdered Jews whose voices would never be heard.  As people clanked over the faces, they were silent.  When it was my turn to walk out onto the exhibition the Memory Voidclanking beneath my feet made me shiver.  To have to step on faces to get to the other side of the exhibit was a very thought-provoking experience: is it okay to keep walking?  Should I really feel the need to make my way over whilst continually stepping on the gaping faces of those staring up at me?  It hit home how many people could never rise up and change society because they had been brutally murdered.  It was infuriating, sobering, eye-opening, and truly tragic.

Memory Void

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