Recently, I got terribly lost in Berlin. It wasn't that I took a wrong turn down an alley, misplaced my map, or lost signal for the GPS on my phone. I was in the Jewish Museum and unable to find my way out of the building for a solid 45 minutes. As I frantically searched for a way out, I began to have a new appreciation for the city I was in and its relationship with its own history.
Soon after entering the Jewish Museum, I was hit with the intense feeling of disorientation. The lower levels of the Libeskind Building consist of three axes chronicling life as a persecuted Jew in Germany. The floors are slanted at irrational angles and the heights of each axis change unpredictably, leading to a feeling of induced vertigo. The only relief to be found at this level are the Garden of Exile and the Voided Void. The Garden offers little respite with it's slanted ground and 49 concrete stelae hoisting olive trees far out of one's reach meant to recreate a feeling of disorientation and loss felt by Jewish citizens force to flee Germany. The Voided Void, or "Holocaust Tower" as it's also known, is initially a peaceful refuge hidden behind a large metal door. However, after a few moments inside, a dour feeling of isolation becomes apparent as if one is standing in a physical embodiment of extreme depression and hopelessness. As my eyes began to adjust to the darkness, another level of the piece began to sink in: the sort of desensitization a person must go through to continue to live in the existential state the Tower represents.
Finally, I made it to the 82 steps leading up to the permanent exhibition space of the museum. After climbing the immense staircase with concrete beams stabbing into the space from the outside, I entered what would begin the worst of my panicked experience. The exhibition is very well done and goes into great detail of all aspects of Jewish culture, history, and spirituality, but after walking through the entire top floor I realized that I had only 10 minutes to get back downstairs to meet with my colleagues to move on to our next stop for the day. I had seen a second staircase on the opposite end of the building when in the lower levels, so I assumed I could take that one straight down if I only continued a little bit further into the exhibition. I was very, very wrong.