Designed by Seattle-based architecture practice Olson Kundig, ANOHA Children’s World has opened at the Jewish Museum Berlin. The fun-first facility welcomes kids of all ages to explore, play and “try things out”. Constructed inside a former wholesale flower market, opposite the main museum building, ANOHA is spread across 2700 square meters. The centrepiece of the project is a seven-meter-tall timber ring that stretches 28 meters in diameter.
The circular structure is inspired by the more than 4000-year-old Mesopotamian story of the ark. But the architects at Olson Kundig say that it resembles a “spaceship”, too. Visitors to ANOHA Children’s World are invited to step onboard the craft and unleash their imaginations, fuelled by the Jewish concept of tikkun olam which calls on each of us to make the world a slightly better place.
Jewish Museum Berlin: ANOHA Children’s World by Olson Kundig
The ark-inspired tale wouldn’t be complete without a zoos-worth of beasties. So a cohort of artists created 150 animal sculptures to inhabit the timber structure. The talented team used everyday junk such as discarded fire hoses, suitcases, bamboo steaming pots, soccer balls and other upcycled wares to fashion familiar-looking faces. The animals now communicate different themes – from legends and folklore to raising awareness of critically endangered species, such as the polar bear threatened by a rapidly melting habitat.
The Jewish Museum Berlin draws an unusually young crowd for a cultural history museum: one in five visitors is under the age of 20. However, the core and temporary exhibitions primarily cater towards adults and teenagers. Hetty Berg, the director of the Jewish Museum Berlin, is pleased that the institution now offers a targeted experience for kids and family groups. “Children’s World is envisioned as a place of encounter between generations, religions and cultures, for people from Kreuzberg, Berlin, and beyond,” she says.
“With the opening of ANOHA, we are now offering a new place for even the youngest among us to play and learn while further strengthening our ties in our own neighbourhood. This is somewhere to enter into a playful conversation about questions that affect everyone.”
The young, inquisitive visitors are welcome to explore the exhibition for themselves and ‘feed’ the animals as they roam the space. While they’re at it, educationally trained attendants are at the ready at various learning stations. That being said, everywhere is a good place to ask questions. In fact, the more the merrier: Why are there unicorns onboard? How did the mammoths live? What will polar bears do when the ice is all gone?
But at the end of the day – fun comes first. Kids can crawl through or over the anaconda, the world’s biggest snake, sit on the elephant or cuddle up to the sloth. The exhibition space has no glass showcases or do-not-cross barriers – instead there are workbenches, slides and climbing structures. Everything becomes tangible following the principle of “hands-on, minds on”.
Kids were involved in the museum’s development process from the outset. A Children’s Council, which was re-appointed each school year comprising six Berlin elementary school students ages six to 12, has met regularly at the Jewish Museum Berlin ever since 2017. The young contributors are the co-curators of specific exhibition areas and are on-hand to test planned installations and contribute their own ideas.
With the opening of ANOHA, we are now offering a new place for even the youngest among us to play and learn while further strengthening our ties in our own neighbourhood.