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Funding Controversy Erupts over Jewish Museum in Berlin

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Controversy over the funding for a new Jewish museum has erupted here, with city officials disagreeing sharply with the museum’s director over the museum’s operating budget and overall organization.

Amnon Barzel, the Israeli director of the museum, set to open in 1997, has criticized Berlin city officials for using the Jewish Museum as a pretext to get funding for other museums.

He said the city’s original idea was for a separate, independent Jewish museum with sufficient funding for a variety of programs.

But now, he said, the Jewish Museum is to be a part of the city’s wider museum system, resulting in sharply reduced funding.

“I didn’t think it would be so difficult to establish a Jewish museum 50 years after the end of the war,” Barzel told foreign journalists at a recent news conference.

He also said the city has given him no staff and has cut his promised budget so dramatically that he does not have the means with which to work.

Barzel maintained that even though the city’s top official for culture, Ulrich Roloff-Momin, has been generally supportive of the new museum, other high-level civil servants have been blocking his plans.

He said he needs about $5 million annually to fund lectures, courses, films, videos and interactive exhibits, but that city officials have told him he can have only $107,140 each year.

Barzel admitted that his plans for interactive exhibits which employ computer technology are ambitious, but he added that the equipment is needed to attract the modern visitor.

Reiner Gunzer, the city official in charge of the museum project, rejected Barzel’s criticisms.

Gunzer, who has been pushing for a Jewish museum since the late 1960s, said the project had always been envisioned as part of Berlin’s larger municipal museum system.

Gunzer, replying to Barzel’s charges, said Barzel was given two co-workers, but that he found them unqualified.

Gunzer said Barzel could have handled the problem differently — by trying to work and improve his co-workers, rather than complaining to journalists.

“I’m rather disappointed that Mr. Barzel has so little confidence in us that he first tells the press before speaking to us directly,” the city official said.

Gunzer also spoke of the financial difficulties facing the city of Berlin, noting that every aspect of public life has been hit by budget cuts and that more are on the way.

Gunzer said Barzel won a competition for the director’s job in part because he said he could bring sponsors to help fund the project.

To date, by Barzel’s own admission, there are only five sponsors, and the city is disappointed with the lack of private supporters for the museum, Gunzer said.

The Jewish Museum, designed by the Polish-born Jewish architect Daniel Libeskind, is currently under construction next to the Berlin Museum, which itself is undergoing a massive renovation.

The official name of the project is the Extension of the Berlin Museum with the Jewish Museum Department.

Construction costs for the Jewish Museum are estimated at $85 million and are being underwritten by German taxpayers.

Barzel has already mounted one exhibit in an improvised exhibition hall in the basement of the Berlin Museum’s headquarters.

The exhibit features photography by Edward Serotta, a photographer from Savannah, Ga., whose pictures of Jewish life in the wartorn Bosnian capital of Sarajevo are on display.

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