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Post Jewish Museum, Berlin
Created by John Eipper on 06/29/21 11:11 AM

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Jewish Museum, Berlin (Patrick Mears, -Germany, 06/29/21 11:11 am)

Connie and I returned this past Saturday from a short trip to Berlin. We had not visited the city since the Corona-related lockdowns in Germany, and because these had recently been substantially loosened, we decided to travel there to visit some friends and tour some sites in a fabulous city that is chock full of history.

While Connie was having lunch with a fellow journalist and friend in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg, I made my way to Berlin's Jewish Museum in Berlin's Kreuzberg District. I finally had the time and the opportunity to tour the Jewish Museum, which is situated perhaps 900 meters southwest from "Checkpoint Charlie" on the Friedrichstraße. The museum was founded in 1962 and is the largest Jewish Museum in Europe, consisting of three separate buildings. The oldest building, the Kollengenhaus, was constructed in 1735 and formerly housed the Altes Kammergericht (Old Court of Appeals). The structure now contains (i) the main entrance to the museum complex and (ii) space for temporary exhibitions on its second floor.

In my opinion, the most dramatic and memorable structure is a separate "labyrinth" designed by the American architect, Daniel Libeskind (1946- ), who was born in the city of Lodz, Poland, to survivors of the Holocaust. In 1957, the Libeskind family emigrated to Israel, and two years later they moved to New York City. After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science, he enrolled in The Cooper Union for the Advancement in Science and Art located in Manhattan, from which he received in 1970 his professional architectural degree. Later, Libeskind earned a postgraduate degree in History and The Theory of Architecture from the University of Essex in the United Kingdom. Interestingly for us Michiganders, Libeskind later became the Director of the Architectural Department of Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, just north of Detroit. He possesses and long and impressive resume, a summary of which would occupy too much space here. Nevertheless, probably his best-known work is what has been described as "Memory Foundations." This complex of buildings and other structures has been constructed on the site of the former World Trade Center in Manhattan, which was destroyed by the "9/11" attacks in 2001. The central building in this complex is the 541-meter spire known as "One World Trade Center."

In my opinion, the most intriguing and spectacular structure designed by Libeskind in the Jewish Museum complex is a labyrinth that the architect has labeled as "Between the Lines." The publication titled "The Jewish Museum-Berlin" describes Libeskind's concept as follows:

"Libeskind is renowned for being unorthodox. He is seemingly incapable of producing any concrete plans for a building without first engaging in what can only be described as elaborate theoretical digressions. He begins with two lines, i.e., two ways of expressing ideas and relationships. This is a good example of his approach to the meaning of architectural elements and how they can be interpreted. ‘One of the lines is straight but fragmented, while the other is winding but never-ending. . . .They move apart, become detached and are perceived as being separated from one another. They thus reveal a void.' The line is Libeskind's favorite figure. It can be continuous, but it can also be broken or forced into angles. He first described it, using the term ‘line of fire,' in 1988, when he had already probably started work on the design of the Jewish Museum. He has come back to it time and again since."

There were two sections of Libeskind's labyrinth that particularly impressed me. The first was the "Garden of Exile," which is actually situated outdoors but is attached to Libeskind's "Between the Lines." The following is a description of this area from the Museum's website:

"The Axis of Exile (viz. one of the "lines" in the labyrinth created by Libeskind-PEM) leads to the Garden of Exile, which is located outside the Libeskind building. Forty-nine concrete stelae are laid out in a 7-by-7 square on slanting ground. The Russian olive growing atop the stelae are a symbol of hope. Forty-eight are filled with soil from Berlin and the forty-ninth, at the center, with soil from Jerusalem. The slanting ground of the Garden of Exile gives visitors a dizzying feeling of unsteadiness and disorientation. The only vegetation is located high out of reach. Libeskind wanted this spatial experience to recall the lack of orientation and instability felt by the émigrés forced out of Germany."

The other section that particularly struck me is within the fifth and final "void" created by the intersection of lines in Libeskind's labyrinth and it instilled in me feelings of melancholy and sadness. This void contains an "installation" created by the Israeli artist, Menashe Kadishman (1932-2015), entitled "Shalekhet-Fallen Leaves." This art consists of more than 10,000 faces with open mouths that have been made out of heavy and round iron plates. These are strewn on the floor of this void. Visitors are invited to walk on these faces, which action produces a grating sound that remains with you even after you leave the area. The artist intended that this installation would stir in visitors "painful memories of the victims of war."

To round out this "tour" of the Museum, the third and final building in this complex was also designed by Libeskind and contains the Museum's Library and Reading Room, its Archive, the Klaus Mangold Auditorium and various seminar and workshop rooms. This structure is located across the street from the other two buildings in the complex and is named after the Founding Director of the Jewish Museum, W. Michael Blumenthal, who was the Secretary of the Treasury in US President Jimmy Carter's administration. Blumenthal and his family escaped from Nazi Germany in 1939, and obtained refuge in Shanghai, China, where they were forced to live by the Japanese occupation army in the "Shanghai Ghetto" until the end of World War II. At the war's end, Blumenthal obtained work as a warehouse helper with the US Air Force and eventually emigrated to the United States with his sister. The rest, as they say, is history.

JE comments:  I've heard a couple of Libeskind interviews on the radio, and his ability to communicate his vision is unparalleled.  Such enthusiasm would inspire anyone to fund his projects!  To be sure, his "unorthodox" (apt word) architectural creations are not for everyone.  Pat, I never knew about Libeskind's connection with Cranbrook (five miles north of WAIS HQ, Royal Oak).  What a connected world, ours.

Please share more details of your Berlin visit!  Not long ago the German capital got Helen Pitlick's vote for "coolest" world city, and she makes a very strong case:



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  • A Dinner with Uwe Krist, Intrepid Travel Journalist (Patrick Mears, -Germany 07/01/21 12:03 PM)
    In John E's comments on my prior post concerning my recent visit to Berlin and its famed Jewish Museum, he asked if I could supply any other details of this trip.

    The other major highlight for me in Berlin this time was visiting, in the company of Cornelia, one of her very close friends among the journalists that she knows, a fellow named Uwe Krist, who was earlier involved in print journalism but now devotes his time and efforts to TV journalism. A number of his highly entertaining productions (in German) may be viewed on the YouTube channel, and they are well worth watching. During this recent trip, we visited Uwe and his wife, Brigitte, at their large apartment home in the Charlottenburg District of Berlin and then took dinner with them at a nearby restaurant. I had met Uwe some years ago at an annual dinner of the German Journalists Association/Vereinigung Deutscher Reisejournalisten (VDRJ) held in Frankenberg, a small town located in the German Bundesstaat of Hessen. At the farewell dinner for that meeting, Connie and I shared a table with some of her fellows, which included Uwe and his friend, Otto Deppe, who had been a radio journalist with Radio Saarland early in his career. In that capacity, Otto had been the only German radio journalist present in NASA's Houston Control Center on the night of July 21, 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot upon the Moon's surface.

    Here is a link to Otto's live broadcast of that event.


    While sitting near Uwe during this dinner, I couldn't help but be amazed and his many fascinating and colorful stories that he told the guests at our table from his storied career in journalism. Uwe was born in 1941 in the German city of Wiesbaden, which is located in the German Bundesstaat of Hessen on the Rhine riverside. As a young man, Uwe studied Archaeology and History of Art in Munster at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität and later as a scholarship holder in Naples, Italy. His doctoral thesis addressed the subject of the aesthetic architecture of the Renaissance. After he received his doctorate from the University of Naples in 1966, Uwe became engaged in fieldwork, unearthing a Bronze Age cemetery and medieval church ruins in Germany. Traveling farther afield, Uwe then participated in the excavation of a Pre-Columbian, princely grave in the nation of Colombia. In 1971, he began work as a print travel journalist for WELT am SONNTAG and quickly worked his way up the professional ladder, becoming the Travel Editor for this national weekly newspaper in 1974. Later in 1978, he was appointed to this same position at the weekly Manager Magazin. In his role as travel journalist, Uwe travelled throughout the world, especially to what were then regions that were inaccessible to the casual traveler. Uwe describes his persona during fifty years of traveling as "mostly a curious stranger who made many friends," and "was always fascinated by other cultures and humanity everywhere."

    Some examples of Uwe's unique travel experiences include a "Robinson Crusoe" adventure undertaken in 1975, when he was dropped off on a tiny island in the Maldives chain with only a machete to use as a tool during a sojourn that lasted three weeks. He also trekked for seven days up (and seven days down) in the Langtang region of Nepal, 5650 meters high in the Himalayas, during which time he was accompanied by the famous Sherpa named Sundaram. Uwe also traveled on foot in Borneo seeking the elusive white Dayak, and participated in similar explorations in the Brazilian State of Minas Gerais and in Ecuador. The Sahara Desert also caught Uwe's fancy during these days, in which he was a member of various expeditions through that torrid wasteland. Looking backward to Uwe's doctoral thesis on Renaissance architecture, we can accurately describe him as the quintessential "Renaissance Man," especially when one takes into consideration that (i) he has been an active deep-sea diver since 1975, (ii) he has been financially supporting for years now an elderly man in Ladakh who has no living relatives, (iii) he writes novels and poetry, and (iv) he is a close friend of the acclaimed Greek composer of ninety-six years, Mikis Theodorakis, who is perhaps best known for his score of the 1964 film, Zorba the Greek.

    Since 1994, Uwe as reporter and later as managing director and TV producer, has specialized in producing travel videos for the Breakfast TV on Sat.1, one of Germany's most successful private TV channels. These videos may be easily accessed on the YouTube channel. Some fine examples of these works are the following:

    "Meteora: Life in a Greek Cloister" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QksQm-AzYYA&t=133s

    "Naples: Travelfever Europe" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLHX6zET1Iw&t=125s

    "The Incas and Machu Picchu" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuzfwR-q3Xc&t=213s

    "Uwe Krist in the Amazon" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIY7xuJFaZ0&t=61s

    When I listen to Uwe tell his stories, watch his travel videos and marvel at the relics that he has collected from ancient sites in Greece, Italy and other corners of this world, I am amazed at his sharp intelligence, vital energy and fearless risk-taking. All of that and more has resulted in the recreation of a true Renaissance Man, which in this day and age we desperately need more of.

    JE comments:  What an unforgettable dinner companion, Pat!  Uwe Krist is cut from the same cloth as the most intrepid of German sojourners:  Alexander von Humboldt comes to my mind. It's good that the age-old German Wanderlust is still in force.  Or how about Fernweh--the yearning one experiences to be away from home.  "Farsickness"?  Call it the opposite of the Portuguese saudades.

    Pat Mears included several photos in his e-mail.  Four images spanning the decades give an overview of Uwe Krist's fabulous travel career.

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