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Confronting Berlin’s Legacy

2 minute read

He has been called a “maverick” by fellow architect Peter Cook, someone who “attempts to dart across all the carefully documented niceties of task, place and space.” Design fans will soon have two opportunities to view the striking, often controversial work of Polish-born architect Daniel Libeskind.

The new Jewish Museum of Berlin, a shiny metal structure with zigzagging crevices on the façade that resemble a broken Star of David, opens with its permanent collection on Sept. 9. Meanwhile, starting June 17 in London’s Hyde Park, Libeskind’s shrunken, horizontal version of his proposed Spiral extension to the Victoria and Albert Museum will serve as a temporary café and lecture space adjoining the Serpentine Gallery.

In designing the Jewish Museum, Libeskind’s biggest challenge was melding the old and the new, not just physically (the museum is an extension of an elaborate 18th century Baroque structure), but also psychologically. Says Libeskind: “I thought one had to confront the issues of continuity, tradition and the New Berlin — what happened and what can happen in the future.”

To that end, visitors arrive through the old building and then enter Libeskind’s extension via a tunnel. This leads to the exhibit, entitled “2,000 Years of German-Jewish History,” which includes thousands of objects depicting Jewish family and cultural life through the ages in Berlin. One area of the museum, however, remains completely empty to symbolize all that has been lost and destroyed: the Void, a concrete corridor that runs through the entire structure. “It is meant to show that even at the height of culture in Berlin, Jews and others were not accepted as full citizens,” Libeskind explains. “There was prejudice, bigotry and anti-Semitism.” The Void, says architectural writer Charles Jencks, “represents the unutterable or unspeakable.”

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