EA parallel action Berlin-Frankfurt? Certainly not. But it is also no coincidence that the new permanent exhibition in the Jewish Museum Frankfurt will be presented only a few weeks after the one in the sister institution in Berlin (FAZ from August 19). Rather, the simultaneity shows that a change of perspective is inevitable. The last survivors of the Holocaust are falling silent, the Jewish communities have become larger and more heterogeneous as a result of immigration from the former Soviet republics, and the younger ones are taking their place in society more naturally.
This development requires the newly opened museum, which is institutionally supported by the city of Frankfurt and at the same time characterized by a Jewish self-image, a changed representation of Jewish life. In a multiethnic urban society, such a presentation also has to reckon with changed and diverse perspectives from the outside – in the better case they testify to carefree curiosity, in the worst case they are shaped by new or surviving varieties of anti-Semitism, which is expressed more and more openly.
Construction work gave the opportunity to revise the permanent exhibition at leisure: almost thirty years after the opening of the museum, which opened in 1988, in 2015 it was time to fundamentally renovate the classicist Rothschild palace on the Untermain. At the same time, an extension was built according to plans by Staab Architects from Berlin, who had won the competition. The completion of this so-called light structure, which doubles the area of the museum, will also be celebrated these days.
As always in such cases, the temptation is great to tap the architecture for symbolism. The brilliantly proven museum planner Volker Staab, who in other cases likes to allude with architectural references to the history of the site and the urban context, is here, as it were, buttoned up. Staab has designed a pentagonal volume with a sloping roof line, seven horizontal projections at increasing intervals structure the facade and soften the solidity of its solitary appearance. At the same time, this layering picks up on the cornices of the old buildings opposite, and the light-colored plaster is also coordinated with one another. A few large, irregularly placed windows have been cut into the facade of the new building. Visitors only believe that the building has earned the name Lichtbau when they are inside. Even in cloudy weather, a large skylight lets in a lot of light into the central room, which almost lets the elaborately processed exposed concrete and ash wood shine. Staab uses bronze-colored metal as a contrast, for example for railings, doors and counters. It has an almost sacred effect.
Isolation and openness
At most one can speak of implied references, which seem to lie almost more in the eye of the beholder than to be interpreted as a clear message. Light construction combines contradicting things – isolation and openness, hardness and friendliness or even individuality and classification. Allusions to Jewish history? That remains in the balance. The key feature of the new building is its use. Unprepared visitors will suspect the exhibition rooms behind the entrance. But in fact there are cash registers, library, archive, bookstore and the kosher bistro called “deli”. All of these facilities are accessible without the visitor having to purchase a ticket. It is only required for access to the large, windowless special exhibition room.