The Libeskind Building
The modern architectural elements of the Libeskind building comprise the zinc façade, the Garden of Exile, the three Axes of the German-Jewish experience, and the Voids. Together these pieces form a visual and spatial language rich with history and symbolism. They not only house the museum with its exhibits, but they also provide visitors with their own unique experience as they walk through the spaces.
"Between the Lines": The Groundplan
"The official name of the project is 'Jewish Museum' but I have named it 'Between the Lines' because for me it is about two lines of thinking, organization and relationship. One is a straight line, but broken into many fragments, the other is a tortuous line, but continuing indefinitely." (Daniel Libeskind, 1998)
Zig-zag best describes the form of the Jewish Museum's New Building. The architect Daniel Libeskind's design is based on two linear structures which, combined, form the body of the building.
The first line is a winding one with several kinks while the second line cuts through the whole building. At the intersections of these lines are empty spaces – "Voids" – which rise vertically from the ground floor of the building up to the roof. Libeskind imagines the continuation of both lines throughout the city of Berlin and beyond.
Lines Without Order? The Façade of the New Building
"An irrational and invisible matrix" (Daniel Libeskind, 1995)
The façade of the Libeskind Building barely enables conclusions to be drawn as to the building's interior, the division of neither levels nor rooms being apparent to the observer. Nevertheless, the positioning of the windows – primarily narrow slits – follows a precise matrix. During the design process, the architect Daniel Libeskind plotted the addresses of prominent Jewish and German citizens on a map of pre-war Berlin and joined the points to form an "irrational and invisible matrix" on which he based the language of form, the geometry and shape of the building.
The positioning of windows in the New Building was also based on this network of connections.
The whole of the New Building is coated in zinc, a material that has a long tradition in Berlin's architectural history. Over the years, the untreated alloy of titanium and zinc will oxidize and change color through exposure to light and weather.
A Void "is not really a museum space." (Daniel Libeskind, 1999)
The Voids represent the central structural element of the New Building and the connection to the Old Building. From the Old Building, a staircase leads down to the basement through a Void of bare concrete which joins the two buildings.
Five cavernous Voids run vertically through the New Building. They have walls of bare concrete, are not heated or air-conditioned and are largely without artificial light, quite separate from the rest of the building. On the upper levels of the exhibition, the Voids are clearly visible with black exterior walls. The Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman's steel sculpture "Shalechet" (Fallen Leaves) covers the entire floor of one of the five Voids.
The Museum's Voids refer to "that which can never be exhibited when it comes to Jewish Berlin history: Humanity reduced to ashes." (Daniel Libeskind, 2000)
Paths of German Jews: The Underground Axes
An underground passageway links the Old Building with the Libeskind Building which has no official entrance. Visitors who pass through the great Void down to the end of the staircase from the Old Building will find the Rafael Roth Learning Center on their right, while ahead of them lies a path system made up of three axes symbolizing three realities in the history of German Jews.
The first and longest of these axes is the "Axis of Continuity." It connects the Old Building with the main staircase (Sackler Staircase) which leads up to the exhibition levels. The architect describes the Axis of Continuity as the continuation of Berlin's history, the connecting path from which the other axes branch off.
The "Axis of Emigration" leads outside to daylight and the Garden of Exile. On the way there, the walls are slightly slanted and close in the further one goes, while the floor is uneven and ascends gradually. A heavy door must be opened before the crucial step into the garden can be taken.
The "Axis of the Holocaust" is a dead end. It becomes ever narrower and darker and ends at the Holocaust Tower. The glass cases on the way display documents and personal possessions testifying to the private and public life of their owners who were killed.
All three of the underground axes intersect, symbolizing the connection between the three realities of Jewish life in Germany.
Exit in Confusion: The Garden of Exile
The Garden of Exile attempts "to completely disorient the visitor. It represents a shipwreck of history." (Daniel Libeskind, 1999)
The Garden of Exile is reached after leaving the axes. Forty-nine concrete stelae rise out of the square plot. The whole garden is on a 12° gradient and disorients visitors, giving them a sense of the total instability and lack of orientation experienced by those driven out of Germany. Russian willow oak grows on top of the pillars symbolizing hope.
Daniel Libeskind's internet address is: