The History of the Jewish Museum Berlin
History of our Museum
The Jewish Museum Berlin opened in 2001. The idea to found a Jewish museum originated in the western part of Berlin in the period before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The journey from the basic idea to the design of the museum’s permanent exhibition was a long one marked by many disputes.
The original plan was to make the museum a department of the Berlin Museum, owned by the state of Berlin. However, when W. Michael Blumenthal, born in Berlin in 1926, was appointed director, this plan was abandoned. Blumenthal, who had emigrated to Shanghai at the age of thirteen and later to the United States, fought for and secured the institution’s independence. In 2001, responsibility for the Jewish Museum Berlin passed to the German federal government and the museum became a foundation under direct federal supervision.
Exhibition Design and Museum Opening
At the same time, the Jewish Museum Berlin became the sole occupant of the building complex on Lindenstrasse, comprising the old baroque building that had previously housed the Berlin Museum, and the addition designed by Daniel Libeskind.
Kenneth C. Gorbey, a New Zealand-born anthropologist and museum manager, and his colleague Nigel Cox designed and coordinated and set up the permanent exhibition. Gorbey and Cox had been involved in creating and planning Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum.
The Jewish Museum Berlin opened on 9 September 2001 with a festive concert conducted by Daniel Barenboim. At the subsequent gala dinner, German president Johannes Rau and W. Michael Blumenthal addressed 850 prominent guests from Germany and abroad, active in politics, business, and the arts.
The public opening was scheduled for 11 September 2001, but had to be postponed by two days due to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
Upon the museum’s grand opening, the multimedia Rafael Roth Learning Center also opened in the basement of the Libeskind building. Until its closure in March 2017, it was a place for visitors to discover Jewish history and culture at twenty computer stations with diverse media applications, which featured documents, objects, films, audio recordings, and interactive games.
Around 700,000 people per year – or roughly 2,000 a day – have visited the Jewish Museum Berlin since its opening in 2001. On 19 November 2015, we welcomed our ten millionth visitor.
After almost fifteen years, we are now developing a concept for a new permanent exhibition.
Innovative Approaches to Education and Research
From the outset, the museum has focused on educational work. In 2007, it launched the educational initiative “on.tour – The JMB Tours Schools” and has since visited schools in all of Germany’s states with a tour bus and a mobile exhibition. In addition, the Education Department designs materials for school lessons.
A database of the museum’s holdings went online in November 2012 at http://objekte.jmberlin.de (only in German).
A new building by Daniel Libeskind was opened in 2012 – the Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin. The related academy programs were launched in 2013 and consist of the Jewish-Islamic Forum and a thematic focus on migration and diversity.
A New Museum Director and a New Program Director
W. Michael Blumenthal, who was instrumental in creating and further developing the museum, stepped down as director in September 2014. He was replaced by Peter Schäfer, an internationally acclaimed Jewish studies scholar. In 2015, the Jewish Museum Berlin presented its founding director with the Award for Understanding and Tolerance and in January 2016 it renamed the Academy the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy in his honor.
Since 1 February 2017, Léontine Meijer-van Mensch has been the new Program Director and Deputy Director of the Jewish Museum Berlin. She succeeded Cilly Kugelmann, who had been involved in the museum from September 2002 to March 2017 as Program Director and Deputy Director.