Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
And yet again I am going backwards. But, hey, time´s relative anyway! So back to 1999…
After in 1988 the city of Berlin announced an anonymous competition some 165 projects of the future museum were submitted. When the results were announced a year later, there was only one winner, the American architect Liebeskind. His unusual and – speaking plainly – quite disturbing concept turned out to reflect the story behind the museum the best: the presence and then the violent vanishing of the Jews from Berlin and German life.
The façade of the lightning-shaped building (hence the name it was given: the Blitz) was covered in zinc, material with long history in Berlin architecture and one changing colour with time. The construction began in 1992 and took seven years to complete. Even though the new building – as opposed to the old one which is housed in the baroque Kollegienhaus (the former Berlin Museum and Berliner Kammergricht, the supreme court of Prussia, still before that) – was ready in 1999, it was not until 2001 that its interior was filled with exhibitions.
Still, despite its being completely empty during those two years, it was visited by 350,000 people! And since the official opening on September 9th, 2001 many more have come.
Liebeskind´s building is not an easy one. Neither is it traditional. Its edges break at unexpected angles, its structure seems to be completely unpredictable and the whole is uneasy to behold. I used to look at it only in quick passing, considering it not so much ugly as hard to stand, like blackberry bushes that scratch you till you bleed if you pass them to close. Since I know what the museum contains and have not so far gathered enough strength to go and look at it all, I at best avoided it.
Until last week, when waiting at the street light in Lindenstrasse I looked up and understood it. This building is supposed to hurt. It has to disturb. It is meant to stop you in your tracks and force you to think, like a giant Stolperstein reminding people: “Look, what you have done. What we all have done…”
The narrow windows of Liebeskind´s building, the holes which are in fact windows – I suddenly saw them as the narrow windows of the cattle train carriages that transported European Jews to concentration camps. The hole-windows are like the small openings in the walls that were the only source of light and fresh air for those lucky enough not to be on those trains but hiding, for months, years sometimes, behind the walls of the attic, in tiny secret rooms in the cellar, behind the wardrobe…
It is not an easy building but go and see it. That´s the least we can do.