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A Bold Flash of Lightning on the Terrain

December 28, 2011 By:
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Just a few blocks southwest of the Topography of Terror, in the long shadow the museum figuratively casts, stands Daniel Libeskind's striking Jewish Museum Berlin. The 12-year-old structure was one of the outspoken architect's first designs to be built, though he was in his 50s by then.

Severely angled, the building resembles a lightning bolt thrust across the terrain.
 
Its zigzag form was said to have been derived from a series of imaginary lines the architect had superimposed on the city map, connecting the addresses of great Jewish individuals in the intellectual history of Berlin -- poet Heinrich Heine, critic Walter Benjamin, musician Arnold Schoenberg.
 
The architect himself has called the project "Between the Lines"; and as German art critic Bernhard Schneider has written of the museum, "In architecture as in life, lines define the relationship between material and immaterial reality."
 
Lines are integral to the design of the facade as well. The zinc covering is scarred as if to show the terrible outcome of the German Jewish story, and Libeskind has said the scoring suggests a shattered Jewish star, a portion of which can be seen as the rest appears to implode along the surface.
 
According to the architect's vision, the interior of the museum was never to be filled. In fact, he sought to angle the walls so steeply that nothing could be hung upon them. One was to walk through the structure, entering only through one door and exiting only through another so that the surroundings would depict the story of Germany's Jews in a visceral, non-literary way. For several years, visitors experienced the building this way.
 
But Libeskind gave in to the museum board's wishes, and in 2001, a permanent exhibit was installed.There are now glass-enclosed exhibits, multimedia presentations and lots of signage. But nothing can compete with the building itself.
 
Five "voids" run vertically through the museum. One of them is 60 feet tall, but very narrow. You can walk above the void's floor, where Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman has placed his art installation, "Fallen Leaves," made up of thousands of iron, rusted faces that appear to be wailing. Some people choose to walk over the faces and it is said their footsteps make a terrible noise.
 
The designated exit takes you to the Garden of Exile and Emigration, dominated by a 7-foot by 7-foot tilted square. There are 48 white columns in the square, representing 1948, Israel's birth. The columns are filled with soil from Berlin; an underground irrigation system lets trees grow from each. The central column contains soil from Jerusalem and is said to represent all that Jews once contributed to Berlin's culture, but is carried on today in Israel. 

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