Perplexing legacy

With her works for our art vending machines, Deborah Wargon exposes things that got swept under the rug

portrait of Deborah Wargon

Portrait of Deborah Wargon © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Gelia Eisert

A cordial welcome, the wafting flavors of a freshly-cooked meal, a light-drenched room with a high ceiling, full of brightly-colored books and pictures, and a piano with a sign-post ‘to Australia’ sitting on it… My first encounter with Deborah Wargon in her live-in atelier in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood is a far cry from the rather severe, somber associations that the term ‘testament enforcer’ brings up for me. Wargon – a musician as well as visual and theater artist born in Melbourne in 1962 – describes herself this way on the package insert that comes with the small-scale artworks that she created for the art vending machine in our permanent exhibition. Those artworks bear the title “The Legacy of Friede Traurig” – where Friede Traurig doubles as a proper name and, in German, to mean peace sorrowful. And Deborah Wargon, who is best known for her paper cuttings inside former insect cases, says that she would rather be sorrowful.

With a little good luck, you may get one of her works from the vending machine: for instance, a little human figurine made of rail track ballast (gravel), wire, and newspaper. Aside from the expressive name Friede Traurig, the materials invoke woeful stories of train transports and barbed wire fences, particularly because the newspapers she used are from the Second World War. But for the artist, it’s clearly not only about the specific time the Nazis were in power and the Shoah. It’s also about the legacies, the inheritance, the stories that we all carry with us. She explains her choice of materials: “For me, wire is a fascinating material. It’s also used for cages. So you can use to suggest the ways that we’re all captive.” The rail track gravel, which normally lies on the ground, relates for Wargon to the ground that we all walk on, as descendants of the people who came before us. “Besides, in both German and English there’s the expression ‘to sweep something under the rug’”. The gravel, or grit, that we bring into the house on the soles of our shoes, and then sweep under the rug, stands for something that we don’t want to face and deal with.

 continue reading


Small, Yet Packs a Punch…

Or: How 300 Artifacts from our Collection Were Turned into a Cabinet Exhibition about the First World War

A spiked helmet in a showcase

Objects from our collections in the exhibition “The First World War in Jewish Memory”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Mariette Franz

Our exhibition “The First World War in Jewish Memory” opened last week. It is based primarily on collections donated to the Jewish Museum by German-Jewish families and each exhibit tells a very personal story.
In total, 176 exhibits were selected, researched and arranged as a visual narrative by eight curators, six restorers, two exhibition technicians, a translator and a graphic artist. So, even before I mention our numerous willing helpers in the wings, in particular the student assistants and the Museum caretaker, this sounds like a big team for a big exhibition. In fact, our joint endeavor culminated in a small cabinet exhibition relating to the First World War, which can be viewed until 16 November in the Rafael Roth Learning Center.  continue reading


Soccer & the First World War

Gems from our Collection

Photograph of a soccer team

Harry Engel (1892-1950) with the FC Bayern Munich, Munich, September 1916
© Jewish Museum Berlin, donated by Alfred Engel, photo: Jens Ziehe

On 15 February 1940, after a four-year wait for an American visa then a successful escape from Nazi Germany, the Engel family, hitherto of Munich, reached the safe shores of Manhattan. In the family’s luggage was memorabilia that the then 13-year-old Alfred Engel was to donate to the Jewish Museum Berlin, decades later, from his father’s estate. It includes rare photographs from the 1910s, a time when Harry Engel (1892–1950) was an active soccer player at FC Bayern Munich.  continue reading