Trials of a Truth Seeker

Countdown before the Opening of the Exhibition “The Whole Truth”

The exhibition The Whole Truth … everything you always wanted to know about Jews opens next week. The curatorial team steps back to admire the showcases and compliment one another on a job well done.

Not quite. Let me guide you through my morning.

8.45 am Arrive at office and stack my drawers with the healthy snacks I have purchased: bananas, apples and organic crispy wafers.

8.50 am Walk over to the galleries to view the showcases, which need to be placed in their final positions this morning.

9.00 am Galleries eerily empty. Project manager cheerfully mentions that there is snow on the Autobahn from Dresden to Berlin. A few showcases have made it through, but their legs are on the Autobahn. Will call when legs arrive.

9.10 am Back to office. Time to authorize the final release of the exhibition texts for production. Make good progress. A colleague pops her head in and glances at the samples in my hand. She points her Smartphone at the texts that are printed on a color background. “Just as I suspected,” she announces, “the English texts cannot be seen by a color-bind visitor.” “How do you know?” “I have to check our web-site for maximum accessibility and have an app here that shows me how the world looks to a color-blind person. Did you know that 10% of men are color-blind?”

A showcase filled with food, seen through another showcase

Installation of the showcases for the exhibition The Whole Truth; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Michal Friedlander

10.15 am Decide to close office door. 2 bananas.

10.30 am Receive scan of an image that is to be blown up to one meter in diameter in the exhibition. It is the stamp used by a rabbi in southern Germany to certify that products are kosher. He has very kindly agreed to make an image available to us. Oops. There is a typo in the first stamp: his name is spelled wrong in Hebrew. Never mind, there’s the second stamp. This cannot be true! It should read “Jüdische Gemeinde” (“Jewish Community of …”) but instead it reads “Indische Gemeinde” (“Indian community of …”).

10.40 am Safety in numbers. I brave the snow and go to the team office down the road. We can review texts together. Already feel better. Cashews and dried cranberries for all. “Buddha has a capital ‘B’ in English, right?” my colleague calls out to me. I return the question with “Is ‘Mitznefet’ spelled without the first ‘t’ in the German transliteration of the Hebrew, like Bar Mizwa?” A reassuring “Ja!” We are old hands and have been pumping out texts here for the past twelve years.

Red-haired doll in a box with styrofoam

Unpacking the “Smash-Me Bernie” Madoff figurine, manufacturer: Modelworks; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Michal Friedlander

12.15 am The Bernard Madoff “Smash Me” doll has arrived, a trident-toting statuette of the criminal financial advisor. It seems he is very smashable as his head broke off during shipping. His glasses are missing, hair and eyebrows are uncharacteristically red. I call our paintings conservator: “I know that you have a lot to do, but if you have a free moment, could you give Bernie a make-over? His hair should be silver.”

1.00 pm Time for a quick lunch break. We are late to the Mensa. The fruit salad is gone and I am forced to have a large slice of rhubarb cake. Exhibition team exchanges info over the lunch table. The dress is still in Australia, the ceramics are stuck in customs: the invoice is inside, rather than outside the box. A critical debate: will anyone notice, apart from us, if there is a slight inconsistency in the wording of the credit lines in the labels?

1.45 pm After returning our food trays in the Mensa, there is a rush for the freezer box containing ice cream. Avoiding the crush, I make for the candy stand. Deliberations. I confer with my colleagues. M & Ms, Toblerone and Rittersport. Wrappers are discarded before we have even left the room.

2.00 pm I scroll through the 13 page document listing the questions asked by museum visitors. The questions relate to Jews, Judaism and the Jewish Museum Berlin. Many repetitions. The list needs to be tidied up for exhibition use. A few samples:

Why are there so many Jewish museums and who pays for it all?

Are Jews normal?

Do Jews have horns?

Why do Jews think they are so special?

Why don’t all Jews live in Israel?

Why didn’t Jews defend themselves against the Nazis?


Time for another sugar inhalation.

Bernie Madoff-doll with silver hair and a pitchfork

“Smash-Me Bernie” Madoff figurine, after restoration, manufacturer: Modelworks; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Thomas Valentin Harb

The curator Michal Friedlander lying on a showcase

Curator testing showcase stability; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Thomas Valentin Harb

4.00 pm The showcase legs are in Berlin – hurrah! With great anticipation we rush to the galleries on a Toblerone high. The conservation department meets us there. Will the showcases survive the “wobble” test? Showcases are forcibly wobbled, but prove to be stable. A big relief for all.

4.50 pm One showcase has a built-in microphone into which the visitors should speak. The microphone is set at a height of 1 meter 20 cms. I suggest that it would be better if our taller visitors did not have to bend over double in order to use it. We call the designer. The height is set for children and visitors in wheelchairs. I sense Tall-ism.

5.30 pm Graphic designer is on the phone. Yes, the 10,000 post-it notes have been printed and are ready for shipment. They include a reference to the museum’s Facebook page. By the way, there is a small typo and the link takes you to a man in Mexico.

The evening is still before us. Pass the M & Ms.

Michal Friedlander, Curator for Judaica and Applied Arts

Portrait of Michal Friedlander, laughing

Michal Friedlander; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Thomas Valentin Harb

Citation recommendation:

Michal Friedlander (2013), Trials of a Truth Seeker. Countdown before the Opening of the Exhibition “The Whole Truth”.

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