The Whole Truth or…A Day in The Jewish Museum in Berlin

Disclaimer: This post is a very deep post. It contains my personal emotional and thought provoking experiences of visiting The Jewish Museum in Berlin. I write about this because this visit has impacted me a lot and I would love to share this because this blog is about my art work and my life as an artist. My art is often very emotional and a lot of my art work is influenced by experiences like this one. I would like to ask to keep any comments respectful – this is a very sensitive topic and I must say I am a bit scared to write about it.

I will not tolerate any hate-related comments. If you feel the need to do so- you are welcome to go to a far remote place in blog land and never ever return back to this website – because then this blog is clearly not written with you in mind!

 

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A couple months ago when Julie and I had already scheduled her visit to me, I heard about the Exhibition “The Whole Truth…Everything you always wanted to know about Jews” in The Jewish Museum Berlin. Many controversial newspaper articles can be found about this exhibition especially the part of the exhibition which became known as the “Jew in a Box”. In the exhibition a Jewish Person sits in a kind of a clear box and can be asked questions about Jews and Judaism. When Julie and I heard about it and read the articles we started discussing this a bit. It started as a discussion between an American and a German, a Jew and a non-Jew, two friends striving to understand cultural, historical and religious differences. We decided we would have to go ourselves to Berlin in order to have an opinion about this exhibition. And so we went.

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The building itself is very impressive – there is an old part of the building as well as a new one built by architect Daniel Libeskind. I cannot remember when an architectural building had such a strong emotional impact on me.

Throughout the building Libeskind has created so called voids, empty spaces which represent the absence of Jews from German society.

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One void is called “Holocaust Tower” . It is very oppressive and moving. It’s a 24 meter/78.7 foot high shaft of concrete illuminated by a single source of light.

The other void which left an unbelievable emotional and physical impact on me was a Memory Void containing an installation titled Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman. “Over 10,000 open-mouthed faces coarsely cut from heavy, circular iron plates cover the floor”.

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Upon nearing this void Julie and I heard this incredible loud noise which from a far away distance sounded first as a remote noise in a very busy cafe where dishes were clanking together but once we came closer and closer the sound was getting painful and shrill. Visitors are encouraged to walk into the void which turns darker and darker in the end.

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I started stepping on the first faces and I stopped right away, I felt sick to the stomach and could not walk a single step further. I think I have never had this kind of reaction to any art I have ever seen and experienced before.

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The first time we went through the Special Exhibition the clear box was unattended. So we decided to come back later again. At the end of the exhibition we found this huge wall full with post-its where visitors were asked to leave their comments and questions about the exhibition. It was another deep emotional moment to read some of them – in all languages, by all kinds of different people , age groups, countries and faiths. Some post-its were rude and  made me swallow – like one in German that said: “None of my answers were answered by this exhibition and I will continue to have my prejudices” ,- many were written in a very narrow minded religious way – but there were also some like these:

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Later we came back and talked to the woman sitting in the clear box. Julie and I started talking to her and my first question was “How do you feel sitting in this box” and “What was your motivation of volunteering for this” . The answers and stories about her experiences were very touching. From outraged Germans that have ties to Nazi-perpetrators to outraged Jewish people being hurt that she would sit in a box like in a zoo, from Jewish women from the U.S. starting to cry because they could not grasp that a jewish woman would live in Germany to young people asking basic questions about the religion. She told us she had wanted to do this to get to know how people in Germany feel about it because she always felt being asked many a questions anyway when she told her friends she was jewish. What she didn’t expect was how emotionally draining this whole experience would be.

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During our conversation many other people joined our group from all countries, jews and non-jews and we had a very lively and very interesting discussion. It was a wonderful experience the way how we all stood there and talked with each other. And then somehow the amazing woman was not alone in the glass box anymore. She was accompanied by a friend from South America and a man from Germany who said he never makes public to be jewish out of fear for the reaction. I know it is hard to grasp if you haven’t been there or if you are full of prejudices about this exhibition anyway- but this picture and this moment was a moment of peace and made me feel that there is hope for this world.

During and after the visit Julie and I spent many hours talking about our experiences in the museum, thoughts and feelings. It was very deep and open and honest. It also reminded me that art is something that provokes thoughts and feelings. As mentioned several times, this visit in the Jewish Museum has provoked many thoughts and feelings in very different ways in me, and sharing this with a friend is an experience I will always cherish.

Loves

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Nat

 

 

Comments (44)

  • Peg

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    Sounds like a profoundly moving experience, I can only imagine. So special that we have come far enough that you and Julie could experience it together with love and support for each other.
    Like Martha said, this is a story that needs to be told again and again so that it is never forgotten.
    Much love
    xx

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  • Michelle

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    I’ve been curious about this exhibit ever since I read an article about it in the New York Times last summer. It wasn’t even up yet and people were already frothing at the mouth. I am glad someone thought if the “Jew In A Box” exhibit. The implications are serious and can be severely misconstrued but I think many people take prejudice and hatred based on “otherness” too lightly these days. This exhibit is shocking but it’s the best kind of art because it promotes open discussion- something that is much needed in this “post race” world.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts- I’ve often wondered how you felt about your country’s past. One of the things I love most about blogs is the personal stories people tell- I wish writers opened up more often. It’s hard since we blog about a very specific subject but it’s worth it. I swear if i had seen an evil comment i would have joined you in the royal blog beat down!
    I’ve wanted to visit Berlin for so long now- this makes me want to go even more! I would love to read some of the discussion you had with Julie- I bet I would learn a whole heck of a lot.

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  • janet.l.barlow@gmail.com

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    Nat, thank you SO much for posting this. It’s such an important topic – and encompasses many topics, actually. Have you ever visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.? We went with our older teen boys years ago and it was also a very emotional experience. It’s so interesting how it’s designed. You start on an elevator that, when the doors open on the top floor, you walk out of to stunned silence as your eyes connect with larger than life photos. There were many displays that made me cry – and I wasn’t the only one. Interestingly, after the horror you’re met with upon the elevator door, as you travel down through the exhibit, it is arranged so that you become more aware of the spirit of the Jewish people, they’re hope to go on from there and the profundity of their culture. One of the most interesting – and hopeful – parts was listening to the recorded stories on a “telephone-like” device where actual Holocaust survivors are telling their stories. It was deeply moving. Don’t miss it when you get here. I’m just struck by the BEAUTY of a German Person and a Jewish Person (such as you and Julie) being able to have a heartfelt and genuinely loving conversation about all of this. There IS hope in this world despite those that would say otherwise. Thank you again for being brave enough to share! ♥♥♥

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  • Nurse Ratchet

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    Nat…thank you so much for sharing such a poignant and personal experience accompanied by your amazing friend with us. Your beautiful souls are such inspiration to everyone you touch whether in person or via your art. Love ya LGL!!!

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  • Carrie

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    Fantastic review of the exhibit and the museum space, Nat. It looks like probably the most powerful museum I’ve heard of. Even though I think almost all of us humans have some kind of prejudice whether we realize it or not, I have never understood prejudice to the point of hatred and abuse or violence. That seems to be truly the presence of evil in the world.

    The installations and the “Jew in a Box” idea are brilliant. It’s difficult for me to even look at the faces in the Fallen Leaves installation; I don’t think I could’ve walked on them.

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  • Michelle Guest

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    Wow! A very emotional tour… Thanks for sharing it with us! I think walking on the faces on the floor would be hard to do. Thanks Nat…

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  • Nolene

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    Wow! Thank you for sharing. Your photos are amazing and just reading about your experience (and especially Fallen Leaves) made me emotional.

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  • Riikka

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    Thank you Nathalie for sharing this. The Fallen Leaves made my stomach turn, too. Very powerful pictures and art.

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  • Martha Richardson

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    Thank you for sharing this post. To be able to go with JUlie and shared your experiences together had to have been incredible! I think of my German {well at one time Loetzin,East Prussia} heritage and how affected I have been about the Holocaust & survivors. It’s a story that must be told over & over until people really GET IT!!!!!

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  • Lisa

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    Thank you for posting your experience, Nat. You were able to convey the power and rawness of the subject and the museum. I am particularly moved by your telling of the coming together in conversation at the box, that the woman was then joined by two others, the German man “coming out of the closet” by stepping into one so to speak. Powerful.

    Reply

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