The Jewish Museum in Berlin: Our Favorite Exhibits

Our Favorite Exhibits At The Jewish Museum In Berlin

On our last full day in Berlin, we decided to check out the Jewish Museum, an enormous museum designed by Daniel Libeskind, chronicling Jewish history over the past two millennia. Besides our bunker tour with Berliner Unterwelten, entrance into the Jewish Museum was the only other time we had to pay admission fees anywhere in Berlin. At only €14 for a family ticket for 3, it was worth every euro, though!

As soon as we entered, I knew right away that this museum was going to be different. I had expected something akin to the Topography of Terror with more interesting architecture, but the Jewish Museum is much more than just a history museum. I’d classify it as an art museum, as well. I’ll show you what I mean in a second.

We visited on a weekday morning in October and were very pleased to discover we were there with only a handful of other people. In certain sections of the museum, we even felt like we had the place all to ourselves, which made the extra-wide hallways and tall ceilings feel that much more empty. As it turns out, that was actually Libeskind’s intention behind the design – the slanting walls, wide walkways, sharp angles, and empty voids are meant to symbolize part of Jewish history. Had it been overcrowded, it would have been much more difficult to see the significance.

The Jewish Museum is enormous, and since neither you nor I care to see this drag out over multiple posts, I’ve decided only to share my favorite portions of the museum. Just keep in mind what you see below isn’t even a fraction of everything that is exhibited here. You’ll need a good 2-3 hours or more to make it through the whole thing!

Our Favorite Exhibits At The Jewish Museum In Berlin

Our Favorite Exhibits At The Jewish Museum In Berlin

Our Favorite Exhibits At The Jewish Museum In Berlin

Our Favorite Exhibits At The Jewish Museum In Berlin

Our Favorite Exhibits At The Jewish Museum In Berlin

The museum begins on the basement floor where three different axes intersect – the Axis of the Holocaust, the Axis of Exile, and the Axis of Continuity. At first, I was surprised to see so much wasted space, but then I realized that was the intention. It lends to the feelings you’re intended to experience down here. This is where real people’s stories from the Holocaust are told through photos, items lost and found, first-hand stories, and other ways designed to pull at your heartstrings. This was my favorite part of the museum. I’ve never been the best of storytellers, but hearing or reading others’ stories is something I truly enjoy, even, like in this case, when those stories rarely have a happy ending.

Two things in particular stood out to me down here – first, the Holocaust Tower. It is, quite simply, a 24-meter-tall, empty room with no heating, where only a small amount of natural light filters in through a diagonal opening near the top. On a deeper level, though, this “voided room”, as Libeskind called it, is a commemorative space for the victims of the Holocaust. Similarly related, the other area that caught my attention was the outdoor Garden of Exile. Similar to the Holocaust Memorial, but on a much smaller scale, the Garden of Exile is made up of row after row of tall, concrete blocks. The ground beneath them is purposefully uneven, designed to create a feeling of disorientation. It is things like this, and everything in the next section, that I was talking about when I said this place is a bit of an art museum as well. It may not be art in the typical paintings/sculptures sense, but art nonetheless.

Our Favorite Exhibits At The Jewish Museum In Berlin

Our Favorite Exhibits At The Jewish Museum In Berlin

Our Favorite Exhibits At The Jewish Museum In Berlin

Our Favorite Exhibits At The Jewish Museum In Berlin

Back inside, we began to explore some of the other areas in the building, all full of interesting things I never would have expected to find in a history museum. There was an extra large room whose only occupant was a robot arm, steadily inscribing the words of the Torah on a long ream of paper at the same, slow pace a human hand would be able to write it. Then there was the Memory Void, containing the work of Israeli artist, Menashe Kadishman. In this installation, 10,000 iron plates that have been cut to resemble faces completely cover the floor, honoring the innocent victims of war and violence. Another favorite, of Lexie’s as well, was the pomegranate wishing tree where visitors are encouraged to write their wishes on a single pomegranate and hang it for display on the wishing tree. A winding staircase leads to the top, so the entire tree ends up filled with bright red pomegranate wishes. Walking through and reading the wishes of strangers was a real treat. (Especially the one that wished for a date with Bradley Cooper. Me, too, sister!)

Our Favorite Exhibits At The Jewish Museum In Berlin

While the majority of the Jewish Museum so far was more on the artistic side, we eventually did make it to the parts focusing on a chronological Jewish history. Now, I love history, like a lot, but even I can admit that at a certain point, it can stop being interesting. For me, pretty much anything over 1,000 years old will put me to sleep faster than a lullaby and a warm glass of milk. So the beginning of this part of the exhibit? Pretty boring for me, actually. Luckily, the deeper we got into it, the better it got. I particularly liked the sections on Jewish culture, popular culture, and the Holocaust. The section on the Holocaust was quite small, though, so if that’s the sort of history you were expecting to see here, you best look elsewhere. (In Berlin, a good place to start would be the Topography of Terror museum I mentioned earlier.)

So, while the contents of the Jewish Museum were radically different than what I was expecting, it was a welcome surprise. Our entire trip had focused almost solely on history, so doing something a bit out of the ordinary was nice. If you plan on visiting, keep in mind this isn’t really the sort of museum you can just wander around in and leave after seeing a few of the exhibits. It’s really meant to be visited and explored as a whole, so allowing enough time to do that is important. All of the information in the museum is in German and English, but if you want a little extra information and more stories behind the museum, grab an audio guide. We didn’t, but after being in the museum for less than ten minutes, I began wishing we had! Also, a few rare parts of this museum may be inappropriate for children (unless you’re looking for a good way to torture your children, in which case the circumcision exhibition is excellent!), but as a whole, especially with all the interactive exhibits and games, it’s a perfect place to bring the kids!

The Jewish Museum: Website
Address: Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin

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Our Favorite Exhibits At The Jewish Museum In Berlin

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  • Erin
    February 5, 2015 at 10:58 AM

    Such fantastic photo’s as always! I love Berlin but to be honest I tend to avoid the WW2 stuff, just because there is so much happening today that causes pain I am not ready to take on any more from the past. I am happy I learned about the wars at school and I think it’s important to keep educating our youth, but I am not ready to take on any more now!

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 6, 2015 at 11:32 AM

      That’s an interesting perspective, Erin. I think it’s important to learn about history, because it can be helpful to understand the reasons why certain things are happening today. I agree, though – it is very painful to revisit terrible parts of our past.

  • Emmymom
    February 4, 2015 at 8:43 PM

    Your line about wanting to torture you kids totally made me laugh, and yeah that might be an exhibit we would skip.

  • Jo
    February 3, 2015 at 9:55 AM

    We have a Jewish museum here in Brussels but I’ve never been there…. then again there was a fatal shooting there last year so at the moment I’m not to keen on going. But the more I read about your trip to Berlin the more I think I want to go there.

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 3, 2015 at 4:51 PM

      Good enough reason not to go for me! I saw that one there when we went to Brussels, but there were so many other things on our list. We just didn’t have the time. Maybe it’s for the best, though. Getting shot is not on my travel bucket list.

  • Isabel @ TheSunnySideofThis
    February 3, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    Great pictures, my favorite part was the one where you could write your wish on the tree :) If one day you have the chance to explore Mexico City, I could recommend that you visit the Memorial and Tolerance museum. It’s a museum that pays tribute to all the victims of genocides, it’s breathtaking. So worth the visit!

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 3, 2015 at 4:50 PM

      Thanks for the recommendation! I do hope I’ll get to visit Mexico City – maybe sometime after we move back to the States. Mexico is one of the many countries I’ve never visited, but should have because it’s so close!

  • Erin
    February 1, 2015 at 7:51 PM

    I have been to this museum and it’s probably one of my favourites. It was so different than anything I had seen before. I very much enjoyed revisiting it in your post.

  • Katrin
    February 1, 2015 at 3:03 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I have not been there yet but will definitely go next time I am in Berlin. It sounds like a very unique experience. PS: I hope you can go on a date with Bradley Cooper!

  • Wild Hearts + Green Tea
    January 31, 2015 at 3:10 PM

    Oh, I’m just discussing a possible Berlin trip with a friend, so happy to find your blog – will be looking through your previous posts! :)

  • rorybore
    January 31, 2015 at 4:34 PM

    seeing that yellow star patch is such a powerful punch in the gut.

  • Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    January 31, 2015 at 11:45 AM

    I can’t say I’m much of a museum person, but it does fascinate me the symbolism that artists come up with, like slanted walls. My brain just doesn’t work that way, so it’s always intriguing.

  • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    January 31, 2015 at 11:24 AM

    The holocaust tower broke my heart – I’ve never been in a space that so expresses an experience – we went on a dark day which made it so much foreboding.

  • Suze @LuxuryColumnist
    January 30, 2015 at 10:36 PM

    I wish for peace and understanding too. Your photos are great, especially the close ups.

  • Robert
    January 30, 2015 at 6:39 PM

    Thanks so much for this, Sarah! I’ve read a little bit about this place & I’ve been so unsure whether to go to not. I’ve got to be honest, from what I read online, it didn’t sound very interesting and I probably would have skipped it. But I didn’t know it incorporated so much stuff, including lots of art, which I’d definitely like to see. So yeah, I think I will go. I’ll just have to make sure I allow plenty of time by the sounds of it! :) x

  • Sara
    January 30, 2015 at 5:07 PM

    I went to this museum this past July on a whim and really enjoyed it as well. I enjoyed reading your post on it! I thought that robot writing the Torah was such an interesting exhibit. And you are right – the space is very well done once you realize the concept. I’ve been to lots of Jewish museums and felt this one was really well done. I could have spent more time in there for sure!

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 1, 2015 at 11:21 AM

      This was my first Jewish museum, but I’d really like to see more. What’s been your favorite?

      • Sara
        February 2, 2015 at 9:58 AM

        I have to say this museum is one on the top of my list. I did really enjoy the Jewish sites in Prague, seeing the synagogues/museums as well as the old cemetery there. I really want to visit Warsaw’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews. I was there early last year, and while visitors were allowed in the building, the permanent collection was not yet open (it’s a new museum). From what I understand, it opened to the public last October – hope I can make it back one day!

        • Sarah Shumate
          February 2, 2015 at 4:43 PM

          I’ll have to check out the places you mentioned in Prague. We hope to go there this year in October!