The Jewish Museum Berlin opened to the public in 2001. It exhibits the social, political and cultural history of the Jews in Germany from the 4th century to the present. The museum explicitly presents and integrates, for the first time in postwar Germany, the repercussions of the Holocaust. The new extension is housed on the site of the original Prussian Court of Justice building which was completed in 1735 and renovated in the 1960s to become a museum for the city of Berlin.
The new design, which was created a year before the Berlin Wall came down was based on a three part 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.
The entrance is through the Baroque Kollegienhaus and then into a dramatic entry Void by a stair, which descends under the existing building foundations, crisscrosses underground, and materializes itself as an independent building on the outside. The existing building is tied to the extension underground, preserving the contradictory autonomy of both the old building and the new building on the surface, while binding the two together in the depth of time and space. The descent leads to three underground axial routes, each of which tells a different story. The first, and longest, traces a path leading to the Stair of Continuity, then up to and through the exhibition spaces of the museum, emphasizing the continuum of history. The second leads out of the building and into the Garden of Exile and Emigration, remembering those who were forced to leave Berlin. The third leads to a dead end — the Holocaust Void.
The Holocaust Void cuts through the zigzagging plan of the new building and creates a space that embodies absence. It is a straight line whose impenetrability becomes the central focus around which exhibitions are organized. In order to move from one side of the museum to the other, visitors must cross one of the 60 bridges that open onto this void.
In 2004, the Jewish Museum Berlin commissioned Studio Daniel Libeskind to design a multifunctional space that would provide additional room for the museum’s restaurant and extend the lobby to provide event space for lectures, concerts, and dinners. The glass courtyard which was completed in 2007 creates an adaptable space which can be used throughout the year while preserving the open courtyard qualities of the baroque building.
Numerous views and opinions have been expressed on the Jewish Museum Berlin. Whether visitors see Libeskind's building as a "spectacular" or a "normal" museum, a deconstructivist masterpiece, a groundbreaking creation, intellectuality in the form of a house, an exhibit in its own right or an architect egotrip – the architect placed great emphasis on people's perceptions of the building and these are formed anew day after day.