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Berlin Puts Last-minute Touches on Jewish Museum Before Gala

August 29, 2001
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With less than two weeks to go before its official opening, Berlin’s new Jewish Museum remains under tight wraps.

That’s because installation will continue until the last minute, museum director Michael Blumenthal said at a press conference here today.

With 3,900 objects, the museum will paint a picture of 2,000 years of Jewish life in Germany — religious and secular life, business and arts, politics and social relations.

A multi-media presentation will provide a virtual glimpse of everyday Jewish life in the medieval city of Worms, where the great 11th century Jewish philosopher Rashi studied.

A “Gallery of the Missing” will focus on the Holocaust.

Also covered in the museum will be the renewal of Jewish life in post-Holocaust Germany.

“We hope that visitors will not only learn about the history, but also about what it means to be Jewish in Germany today,” Blumenthal said.

There are nearly 90,000 Jews in Germany today, more than half of them recent emigres from the former Soviet Union. Before the Nazis came to power in 1933, there were about half a million Jews in Germany.

German Finance Minister Hans Eichel said the museum’s most important message should be that “society is enriched by people who are different,” and that “it must never happen again — that people are murdered because they are different.”

He lauded Blumenthal and his team for creating an exhibition that complements the delicate, zigzag structure of Daniel Libeskind’s building.

Blumenthal said he was mildly concerned that the week of high-profile opening events set to kick off Sept. 9 would divert attention from the content of the museum.

In fact, when the building opened in the winter of 1999, the opening event was the hottest ticket in town. Since then, more than 300,000 people have walked through its halls on guided tours.

Though devoid of exhibitions until now, the empty building has had an obvious appeal to tourists and Berliners alike. For the last few months, however, the museum has been closed to virtually all visitors.

That will change on Sept. 9.

The long-awaited opening week will begin with a concert by the Chicago Symphony conducted by Daniel Barenboim, followed by a gala dinner. Some 850 guests are expected.

Later in the week, school children will participate in hands-on projects, such as painting their names in Hebrew letters on T-shirts. A day has been set aside to honor people from around the world — among them many Jews who fled Nazi Germany — who contributed material to the museum.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Johannes Rau will be among the guests, along with numerous German dignitaries, Jewish communal leaders from Germany and abroad, and the mayor of Shanghai, Zhu Ronghi.

The presence of Shanghai’s mayor “is especially interesting and important to me,” said Blumenthal, whose family fled to Shanghai from Berlin in 1939 and emigrated to the United States in 1947. “Shanghai was a city in which thousands of Jews found refuge.”

On Sept. 11, the doors of the Daniel Libeskind building will open to the public for the first time. Admission that day will be free.

“If too many people show up, we will have to close the doors,” Blumenthal said, smiling.

The doors open officially the next morning, and from then on will be closed only for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Dec. 24 each year.

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