Jewish Museum in Berlin to open amid ambivalence

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NEW YORK -- Berlin's avant-garde, and to date empty, Jewish Museum will inaugurate its first exhibition Sept. 9, amid budding yet hesitant interest in German travel by Jewish-Americans.

The museum, whose empty galleries have received around 350,000 visitors since January 1999, already is standard fare on most Berlin tours thanks to its architectural merits, said Stuart Katz, president of TAL Tours, a Valley Stream, N.Y.-based tour operator that's crafted a new Jewish heritage package to Germany and Israel in cooperation with German flag carrier Lufthansa and the countries' tourism boards.

Designed by New York architect Daniel Libeskind, the unusual structure on Berlin's Lindenstrasse resembles a zig-zag or lightning bolt, contrasting severely with the baroque Municipal Museum next door.

The new exhibit, "Two Millennia of Jewish History," is a three-part exploration of Judaism, the Holocaust, and post-war Jewish life in Germany.

Artifacts, documents, audio-visual presentations, interactive PCs and other media will explore German-Jewish history and the Jewish influence in Berlin since the Middle Ages.

But the new museum exhibits themselves may not have a big impact on travel to Germany by some Jewish-Americans still reluctant to visit the city where the Nazi-run Holocaust was planned.

"I don't think the museum's existence alone will convince Jewish travelers to visit Berlin," TAL Tours' Katz said.

Sophia Kulich, a Jewish travel specialist with E&M Travel, Westport, Conn., has fielded inquiries on Berlin from prospective Jewish visitors -- but hasn't booked a trip.

"I have no problem with sending people there," Kulich said. "Jewish travelers go to Poland, Hungary and Prague, but they still have a problem going to Germany.

"But there is some interest," she noted. "Personally, I don't think avoiding Germany's rich Jewish heritage helps."

German tourism officials expect the museum to become as important to Berlin as the Holocaust Memorial Museum is to Washington, where it is one of the top five draws.

"We expect a similar wave of ongoing interest by Germans and travelers from every continent," said Ricarda Lindner, marketing manager at the German National Tourist Office in New York.

Starting Sept. 12, the Jewish Museum Berlin will be open daily, save Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Christmas Eve, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., with admission set at about $4.

The museum also features a book and gift shop and a kosher restaurant, Liebermanns.

For more information, visit the Jewish Museum's Web site at www.jmberlin.de, or contact the German National Tourist Office at (212) 661-7200 or online at www.visits-to-germany.com.

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