The Jewish Museum Frankfurt is located at two addresses, both of which are of seminal importance for the city’s Jewish history. These are the Museum Judengasse, including the neighboring Börneplatz and the Old Jewish Cemetery on Battonnstrasse, as well as the Jewish Museum at Berta-Pappenheim-Platz 1, a building ensemble comprised of the historical Rothschild Palais and the contemporary “Lichtbau” extension, designed by Staab Architekten. In the permanent exhibitions at both locations, we narrate the more than 800-year history of one of the most important centers of Jewish life in Europe.
The Renovation Process
In February 2012, the members of Frankfurt’s city council passed a resolution to renovate and remake the Jewish Museum. In the summer of 2015, the city magistrate approved the museum’s plans to create a new center for Jewish history and culture. October 21, 2020 marks the date the new Jewish Museum opens its doors to the public.
The Rothschild Palais, which has been renovated and restored to its original historical state, is now joined by a second building: the “Lichtbau” extension by Staab Architekten. Bertha-Pappenheim-Platz, for which artist Ariel Schlesinger has created a striking sculpture, connects the two buildings.
The “Lichtbau” extension includes a spacious entrance area with two foyers, an event room, a shop operated by the Jewish book store Literaturhandlung, and the dairy kosher Flowdeli. Spacious exhibition rooms make up the lower level. On the first floor, which is bathed in daylight, there is a library clad entirely in wood that is particularly geared toward children, young people, and families; this is where the museum archives, most notably the documents of the Frank Family Center, can be viewed.
The reopening of the ensemble around the former Judengasse and the inauguration of the museum complex at Bertha-Pappenheim-Platz 1 mark the emergence of a unique center for historical and contemporary Jewish culture, one that makes the diversity of Jewish life palpable in a visual, emotional, and cognitive way.
The Two New Permanent Exhibitions
The first part of the permanent exhibition can be seen in the Museum Judengasse. Ritual objects, writings, and everyday objects from the early modern era; children’s and audio stations; and the stone foundations of five buildings from the former Judengasse provide vivid insight into life in Europe’s first Jewish ghetto. The exhibition at the Jewish Museum’s second location was completely redesigned and reopened in March 2016; that same year, it was awarded the Museum Prize of the Sparkassen-Kulturstiftung Hessen-Thüringen.
The second part of the permanent exhibition is situated in the renovated Rothschild Palais. The history of Jewish life in modern Frankfurt, ranging from the emancipation of around 1800 to the present, is narrated here on three floors comprising 14,000 square feet in all. The exhibition concentrates on specific topics, with a particular focus on the wide range of Jewish traditions as well as everyday family life. This is an aesthetic mixed-media presentation consisting on the one hand of everyday and ritual objects, photographs, paintings, and contemporary art, and on the other of media installations, digital applications, and interactive stations. The works of art by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Henri Matisse, and Ludwig Meidner are of outstanding importance, as are the ceremonial objects from the workshop of Felix Horovitz and the contemporary artists Tobi Kahn and Rachel Kanter. There are also room-sized media installations on the Rothschild family’s living environment and everyday objects owned by the family of Anne Frank. A special gift, the “Museum to Go,” enables visitors to digitally collect individual aspects of the exhibition and take them home with them.
More Space for Families and Sensory Experience
Our two permanent exhibitions invite children to take part in an unusual kind of experience. Interactive hands-on stations can be found here, as well as radio plays and audio tours especially designed for kids and a participatory booklet inviting them to explore. Our new library also provides special offers to children, young people, and families. It not only contains literature on a wide range of topics; it also provides media in forms other than books. Its space, flooded with light, acts as a setting for readings and workshops for young and old readers and the generally curious, while our children’s program encourages creative excursions every month—into the world of taste in baking, for example, to be explored in our children’s workshop.
Opportunities for sensory experience play an important role in our new museum. We regularly invite visitors to dine on food cooked from family recipes; in our dairy kosher deli, visitors become acquainted with dishes prepared according to the Jewish dietary laws. Our new building offers an aesthetic approach to a key element of Jewish ceremonial culture: light. The concerts and the audio stations in our permanent exhibition transport visitors into the world of Jewish music.
Museum Without Walls
Over the past several years, we have maintained a presence with temporary platforms in the Frankfurt metropolitan area. For the Pop Up Boat and the Pop Up Monument, we decided on participatory access to topics and questions concerning the new Jewish Museum. In the autumn of 2018, we invited visitors to an Open House to participate in the evolution of the new Jewish Museum on site. Throughout the summer of 2020, the Bus of the Future invites people at various locations in the Frankfurt area to talk about how we envision living together.
Our temporary platforms illustrate how we see ourselves: as a changing museum that seeks to reach out to its visitors in a transparent and open way and to break down barriers. In times when verbal and physical abuse are on the rise, it’s an attitude that we increasingly regard as a mission: we see it as our job to strengthen intercultural understanding, to make Jewish history tangible in the present, and to encourage people everywhere to engage in self-reflection.
As a museum without walls, we have systematically expanded our digital activities and, for instance with the “Invisible Places” app, we invite visitors to get to know the sites of migration in Frankfurt’s city space. Our many different educational programs are aimed at a wide spectrum of visitors to offer them inclusive, personal access to Jewish culture. Most of these take place in our museum, particularly in the specially created Studio Alef. Our outreach programs, on the other hand, are aimed at young people who would not normally come to the museum, and engage in primary preventative, diversity-sensitive educational work in other locations.
With our educational offers, our diverse collaborations, and our digital activities, we want to make our vision of an open, transparent, networked museum a reality. We are convinced that networked action in the digital and social realm can and will indeed facilitate a respectful form of living together and thus the continued existence of enlightened, democratic, and plural societies in Europe.