The Jewish Museum in Berlin is one of the most-frequented museums of Jewish arts, culture and history in the world, with nearly one million visitors per year. A visit to the museum is an opportunity to pay homage to over two thousand years of Jewish history in Europe, and to recognize both historical and contemporary Jewish contributions to Germany. In addition to its stunning architecture and vast permanent collection, regularly rotating temporary exhibits are also on display. While the museum offers visitors a chance to confront the horrors of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, it also provides a meaningful alternative by presenting the myriad highs of Jewish history and culture.
+++Check out our self-guided Jewish Berlin tour or our other Berlin Museum recommendations and tips for museum lovers on Museum Island. A visit to the Jewish Museum can also be connected with a visit to Checkpoint Charlie or with a self-guided tour of Berlin Kreuzberg.+++
In the 1970s academics, historians and activists began to petition for a museum dedicated solely to Jewish history in what was then West Berlin. A debate raged for over a decade, with some believing that the collection should be housed in the existing Berlin Museum, and others demanding that the Jewish experience should be given a higher profile and a discrete location, with the latter group emerging victorious. The baroque 1735-era Kollegienhaus was repurposed to become the home of the ambitious new project, and an architectural competition was launched in 1988 to choose a design for a new building to be built onsite.
Visit the museum
- Monday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- *Please plan sufficient time for the security checks at the museum entrance.
- Adults: 8 Euros - entry is free with the Berlin Pass.
- Concessions: 3 Euros
- Family Ticket (2 adults and up to 4 children) 14 Euros
Jewish Museum Berlin
Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin (map)
By Ubahn: U1 or U6 to Hallesches Tor
U6 to Kochstraße
By Bus: M29, M41, 248
Daniel Libeskind, a Polish-American of Jewish descent, won the competition with his ultra-modern, twisted metal zig-zag of a structure, designed to contrast with the eighteenth century Kollegienhaus and prepare the visitor for an experience during which they will encounter disturbing images and narratives. He says of his winning entry, “the new design, which was created a year before the Berlin Wall came down was based on three conception that formed the museum’s foundation: first, the impossibility of understanding the history of Berlin without understanding the enormous intellectual, economic and cultural contribution made by the Jewish citizens of Berlin, second, the necessity to integrate physically and spiritually the meaning of the Holocaust into the consciousness and memory of the city of Berlin. Third, that only through the acknowledgement and incorporation of this erasure and void of Jewish life in Berlin, can the history of Berlin and Europe have a human future.”
When the building was completed in 2000, the empty structure became a tourist attraction even before the museum was opened one year later! Libeskind has gone on to become one of the most celebrated architects of the twentieth and twenty first century, designing the Denver Art Museum, the Manchester Imperial War Museum, the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin and most famously, the World Trade Centre redevelopment.
Visitors enter the Jewish Museum through the Kollegienhaus, and gain access to the Libeskind building through an underground passage. There one confronts three distinct narratives, or axes, representing Jewish history in Germany, emigration to other parts of the world and the Holocaust. (Top tip: It is important to note that you will enter the main exhibit in the basement, and you then must ascend a long stairwell to the top floor. From there, you’ll experience the museum from the top down – this can be slightly unclear, and people do report getting confused!) The permanent collections showcases fascinating artifacts from Medieval Germany, the Age of Emancipation (a time of prosperity and social harmony in the nineteenth century), details the Jewish war effort during World War One and chronicles the terror of the Holocaust. The collection is displayed in a stark, minimalist way that matches the somber tone of the subject matter. Audio guides are available for 3 Euro, and are highly recommended (Top Tip: arrive early, as they tend to sell out for the day by noon, and are then only available after an hour+ wait).
This austere approach is contrasted by the often-lighthearted temporary exhibits, which are frequently presented in a fun and accessible manner. Past exhibitions have included, “Chrismukkah: Stories of Christmas and Hanukkah,” “The Whole Truth … everything you always wanted to know about Jews,” and “Kosher & Co: On Food and Religion.” The current exhibit, launched in October 2014 and running until March 2015, is entitled “Snip It! Stances on Ritual Circumcision” (cheekily presented with a banana in the logo).
While those with Jewish heritage will undoubtedly be keen to visit, the museum is an important stop on any Berlin tourist’s itinerary.
Written by Jessica O'Neill