Berlin / Two Museums / Daniel Libeskind / The World Trade Center

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Well, I’m back in Berlin, sitting in a café on Oranienburger Strasse drinking coffee and seeing what’s happening in internetland.

The weather’s much warmer and brighter than when I left last week, and the town feels livelier up in this area than it did out in Charlottenburg or Schönberg or whatever borough I stayed in before. I’m staying at the apartment of friend-of-a-friend James while he’s out on “hol[iday]s.” It’s the sort of musty, high-ceilinged place that feels like it might have housed some combination of artists and revolutionaries during the 1930’s, though now it’s packed with the books and posters of a more academic set. (And, remarkably, it smells much like the House of Commons used to. Funny how olfactory memroy works. Maybe that’s just the international smell of group living.)

Yesterday I tried to visit the Checkpoint Charlie museum and the Jewish Museum and mostly failed on both accounts. Across the street from Checkpoint Charlie some organization had set up a memrorial to those who lost their lives trying to cross from east to west over the years. Each person had a tall, white cross with their photo and a brief personal description attached. These crosses were set out in a couple of vacant lots in a regular pattern. Along the street stood a long plaquard telling about the crosses. The English translation complained about how the property-owners of these two plots had promised to build a memorial of some sort to the lives lost and refered to the plots as “the most important plots in the free world.” What? Good way to loose your credibility, there. Maybe the people who wrote that should get into a fist-fight with the WTC-Ground-Zero memorializers. Or a thumb-war. Then we’ll see who’s most important…

Anyway. I don’t have any objection to memorializing those who lost their lives trying to overcome a border so senseless, but I’m a huge fan of keeping things in perspective.

An American couple sidled up beside me to read the same plaquard and had this to say:

“I wish Jonathan could be here. It’d really make him understand freedom.”

Okay. So I gave up on the Checkpoint Charlie museum. I’d been last year when I came to visit Brenna, so no major loss.

Next stop: Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum). I’m going to make a tasteless joke that has a point… Eventually the arms race to make those visiting museums about the Holocaust “feel it” as much as possible, designers are just going to gas visitors on upon entrance with Zyklon-B. Bad joke to make a point: I’m not entirely sure that making a building as physically uncomfortable as possible really helps communicate the atrocities of the Holocaust. I know I don’t like ugly, gray, irregularly-shaped, steel buildings. And I’m not sure how this dislike is supposed to translate into an understanding of what it might have felt like to be on the receiving end of genocide. Especially when said building is designed by someone who didn’t personally directly experience the Holocaust. Daniel Libeskind (yes, Mr. WTC Designer Guy) may have been born in Poland soon after the war ended, but that doesn’t make him any more of a primary source than I am. I appreciate the attempt at expressing an emotional state through art, but in this case I would much rather have access to new and interesting information about the event than the same personal stories and statistics that every Holocaust museum features. You really don’t need to argue with me about why the Holocaust was horrible…

That said, the Memory Void installation piece was a good experience. It’s almost worth visiting the museum just for that. The piece is essentially a huge, concrete room, empty except for piles of flat faces, pressed out of plates of steel into kind of six-inch-wide coins. The artist asks that you walk across these, and with each step the sliding and clicking faces make sounds that echo and reverberate around quite loudly. I really enjoyed the piece, especially as a kind of sonic toy. But. I can’t say it helped my appreciation of the Holocaust or Jewish culture. It could’ve existed in any museum and I would’ve enjoyed it.

Like I said, the musuem had been designed by Daneil Libeskind, whom most of us know as the guy responsible for the winning design for the new World Trade Center complex in New York City. And they had a large model of the proposed design on display at this museum. And, while it’s not as jarring as the Jewish Museum, it did sport some of the same sort of jagged uncomfortableness that’s probably intended to help us “feel” the tragedies of 9/11. For the same reasons I’ve whined about above, I really don’t think that a bunch of aggressively off-kilter lines will demonstrate anything other that how people find aggressively off-kilter lines somewhat uncomfortable. And I would hesitate to replace an elegant set of buildings with something with architectural features intentionally off-putting. At least, do that kind of thing in someone else’s country to remind them what assholes they’ve been — don’t put that in the United States.

I hate to agree with Donald Trump, but his suggestion has come closest to what I’ve been a proponent of all along. He suggests replacing the Twin Towers with two nearly identical towers, just one story taller apiece (and otherwise modernized). Anything built on that property will immediately become a memorial — let’s not overdo it and make something that will be dated and unwanted in fifteen years. I agree.


Posted Fri, May 27, 2005, 3:32am EST by bren

You should go to Russendisko. Oh yes.
OH DAMN. You should meet my friend Alan before he leaves.
Will email.


Posted Tue, May 31, 2005, 4:58am EST by bren

He's already gone.
Eat pelmeni.


Posted Sat, June 4, 2005, 9:51pm EST by bren

Where are you? You still there? Update!


Posted Sat, June 11, 2005, 5:07pm EST by bren

i loves the pictures. makin me homesick. see you in a few weeks