We made it to Berlin Tuesday morning after what, as I had anticipated, was a wonderfully pleasurable flight, relaxing in the sauna, playing a couple of rousing games of ping pong down on the recreation deck, sipping mai-tais with the crew, and singing karaoke in the lounge. In my dreams.
Actually, as I really predicted, we were stuffed into our seats like sausage meat into pig intestines in the economy section of the 757-B. Periodically, they brought us drinks and what they claimed was food a couple of times. At one point during the "meal" a young, waiflike boy rose up at the rear of the plane clutching his small bowl and stating in his tiny but plaintive voice, "I want more." "More?!!" Bumble roared. "No one ever asks for more!" Well no, actually, that's in a scene from Oliver, but I presume you get my drift.
Sometime after feeding us they started running a movie up in first class, while in coach, they passed around a View Master with a series of pictures of various midwestern barns having "See Rock City" painted on their roofs. (The "3D" effect in that View Master is truly amazing. It's just like being there, standing in front of those barns. What won't they think of next?) America is truly a great country!
Well, once again, I must confess that I have been, how you say, pulling the leg. Ha,ha. Actually, we were treated with the very high minded and artfully understated film version of the venerable Starsky and Hutch. Again, I say, America is… yada, yada, yada.
The seat was so roomy and comfortable, the atmosphere so relaxing, I must have slept for as long as 10 to 12 minutes during the seven-plus hour flight. The only part of me that got any real sleep was my butt which remained pretty much numb for the duration. I did get an aisle seat as I had hoped, but of course that meant I got whacked in the arm or shoulder every time someone passed by in the aisle. I have the tomato juice and coffee stains to prove it.
Nevertheless, we did eventually land at Tegel Airport in Berlin with most of our parts and luggage more or less intact. We were also more or less on time, and my son was there to pick us up. After a cup-o-joe at the airport Starbucks (where else?) we drove into the city for a bit of sightseeing. We wound up at the Jewish Museum. Here, the story takes on a bit of a turn.
Any readers familiar with the museum know its scope and what we saw there. Suffice to say that it is not solely a Holocaust museum. It is primarily devoted to the history of Judaism and the Jewish people which, of course, includes the Holocaust. It is set up in three basic levels. The upper level recounts the early development of Judaism. The second level is devoted to the evolution of Jewish culture, society and family, culminating with the first years of Nazism and the harbingers of what was to come. The lowest level then is devoted almost wholly to the Holocaust.
We spent roughly two hours there, which would tell anyone who has toured the museum that we didn't really take in much. That, I suppose, is true. We had come more or less directly from the airport and our 20 or so hours since leaving home. Our exhaustion, coupled with my sore and swollen knees made the tour a bit arduous and painful.
Perhaps that is in some respects an effective way to do it. I'm certainly not suggesting that my situation is in any way analogous to the suffering endured by Holocaust victims. But discomfort is a theme that runs through the exhibit starting with the architecture. The new and larger portion of the museum designed by Daniel Libeskind apparently looks like a slash or lightening strike over the landscape when seen from the air. The building is fraught with odd angles, deceptively sloping floors and odd shapes. Windows offer small, almost tantalizing glimpses of the outside world. Interior "voids" offer just that – void, a sense of nothingness. The last of these voids and the largest, is a space of bare concrete, the floor strewn with "Fallen Leaves," several thousand anguished iron faces of the expelled and murdered Jews.
While, as I said, we spent a scant two hours there, the museum had a definite effect on me. The architecture, the voids and especially two features located on the ground level near the end of the tour were most disturbing. First is the "Garden of Exile." One enters through a deformed doorway leading outside to a space taken with several vertical pillars each having some type of willow tree growing at the top which, at least in early spring, look more akin to barbed wire. The walls, the floors, the aforementioned door and other visual aspects are all disconcertingly at odd angles rendering it difficult to navigate, apparently at times making people effectively sea sick.
Second is the "Holocaust Tower," which Libeskind describes as a "void of voids," also an exterior space – a triangle of concrete walls rising upwards perhaps 60 or 70 feet. As the access door is closed, one is suddenly aware of the isolation. There are no windows, only a small slash of light at the very top. On one wall is a series of steps, the lowest of which are inaccessible, reaching up to nothing in the dim light. A sense of confinement and claustrophobia rose in me almost immediately. I couldn't get out quickly enough. Apparently, earlier on, once someone entered the space, the door remained closed and would not reopen for around three minutes. They stopped that practice because too many people were freaking out in isolated panic. I left the museum exhausted, hobbled in pain and deeply moved. I didn't take in much of the detail – the small exhibits of photos, letters, bits and pieces of individuals and families torn asunder, lives lost – but the effect, I think, was the same. The scope of this hideous tragedy was not lost on this patron.
In what amounts to a sad footnote, all accesses to the Jewish Museum are blocked by large concrete cubes designed to keep all vehicles at bay, and it is necessary that every visitor go through security screening including x-ray just as at any airport to gain entrance. Security guards, cameras, and who knows what other monitoring devices abound throughout the complex. This tour made for a sobering beginning to our visit, but perhaps aptly so. It helps to put everything one sees and does in Germany in a different perspective. While there is much history, beauty, and greatness to be seen here, the Jewish Museum serves as a reminder that insanity and horror lie just around the corner.Powered by Sidelines