Why visit the Memorial to the Murderd Jews of Europe

Not your usual boring monument, the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin has not explicitly expressed meaning. Rather it was designed as though provoking an emotional experience. As you wind your way through the gridded labyrinth of sloping pathways between the towering concrete slabs, unable to clearly see who or what is approaching you, you may feel a sense of uneasiness and disorientation akin to the Jews during Holocaust. For those seeking more information, there is also a subterranean exhibition detailing the personal lives of the murdered Jews. Walk alone among the stelae from one corner to the other to experience the full power of the Holocaust Memorial. This is not a monument you can appreciate by looking from a distance.

This memorial makes you think. It is big, but so was the holocaust. It is both confusing and overwhelming, as was the holocaust to those caught up in it. A visit to the underground information centre is an essential addition

Codash, 17 Nov 2012, Australia
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The Holocaust Memorial history

The Controversial Conceptualisation

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas), was first proposed in 1988. A competition was held but no suitable concept was submitted. A second competition in November 1997, led to architect Peter Eisenman’s design emerging as the winner. Many say he gained credibility from his Jewish background, being born to non-practicing jewish parents.

Eisenman proposed 2,711 large concrete slabs, uniqu...

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The Controversial Conceptualisation

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas), was first proposed in 1988. A competition was held but no suitable concept was submitted. A second competition in November 1997, led to architect Peter Eisenman’s design emerging as the winner. Many say he gained credibility from his Jewish background, being born to non-practicing jewish parents.

Eisenman proposed 2,711 large concrete slabs, unique in shape and size, arranged to form a maze like grid the size of a city block. As visitors walk down the undulating slope to the center of the memorial, the stelae loom higher and higher, shadowing them in all directions. The Holocaust Memorial can be entered from all sides and offers no prescribed path.

Protests against the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe have been numerous. Commemorating only Jews, it was said to neglect all other victims of the Nazi regime, such as homosexuals, conscientious objectors and Gypsies. Still others has criticised the relevance of the plain design, calling it overly abstract with its lack of religious symbols, inscriptions or plaques. While prominent members so the German Jewish community felt the Holocaust Memorial to be unnecessary or even decry it as “an exploration of the Jews disgrace for present purposes” and “a ceaseless presentation of Jewish shame”. Backers of the memorial say the stones would become central to Berlin’s identity, with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder commenting the memorial signifies the fact that Germany now "faces up to its history".

But it was not only the design which caused controversy. The Holocaust Memorial was to lie between East and West Berlin in a stretch of the former death strip. However, the 19,000 square meter block of land chosen as the site for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe has an even darker past. In 1937, it housed the office of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Despite the objections, on June 25, 1998, the plan for the Berlin Holocaust Memorial was approved, provided it was modified to include a holocaust memorial museum to provide visitors with historical facts and a context otherwise lacking. Construction began on April 1, 2003

The Holocaust Memorial Museum

Below the memorial stones lies an underground information center chronicling the particulars of the Nazi’s “final solution”. The visitors center is grouped into rooms, each with a specific focus: The Starting Hall, featuring 6 large photographs of persecuted Jews, resembling the 6 million who died during the Nazi regime; the Room of Families focuses on the fates of 15 Jewish families; the Room of Names projects the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims on the walls as a short biography is read aloud; the Room of Dimensions which contains personal scribings including diary pages, farewell notes and letters written by victims; and the Room of Sites where visitors can hear taped testimonials recorded by survivors of various concentration camps. It is a powerful exhibit which complements the abstraction of the memorial is with personal documentation. Inside the Berlin Holocaust Memorial Museum all text are provided in both English and German.

The Degussa Incident

On October 14, 2003, a scandal was published that the German company Degussa was providing the anti-graffiti agent for the Berlin Holocaust Memorial stelae and construction was halted. In an uncanny twist, it was revealed that Degussa’s daughter company, Degesch, had produced the Zyklon B poison used in the Nazi gas chambers.

Heated discussion ensued with representatives of the Jewish community calling for an end to Degussa’s involvement. Henryk M. Broder was quoted that “the Jews don't need this memorial, and they are not prepared to declare a pig sty kosher”. On the other side, politicians argued against incurring further expense and that it would be impossible to exclude all german companies involved in Nazi crimes. One month later construction resumed, with Degussa donating their product for free by way of atonement.

The Holocaust Memorial’s Bratwurst Free Inauguration

On December 15, 2004, the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was completed. It was dedicated on May 10, 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, and opened to the public two days later. The final cost of construction has been estimated at €25 million.

Interestingly, on opening day upon Eisenman’s request, not Bratwurst stands were permitted to be set up near the Holocaust Memorial. The commercialisation of and profiting from the suffering of the Holocaust was something he adamantly rejects.

Interpretation of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Architect Peter Eisenman vision was for visitors to walk a labyrinth of undulating pathways between the massive stone slabs, unable to clearly see who or what is approaching you, feeling the loss and disorientation that the Jews felt during the Holocaust. The rectangular blocks are said to embody the 6 million murdered Jews, a vast field of nameless tombstones. It represents a outwardly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason, causing an uneasy and confusing atmosphere.

Many people view the Holocaust Memorial as a physical embodiment of the historical stain of the Nazi’s. But also as a symbol of the Germany’s “culture of remembrance”, a willingness to openly acknowledge their past crimes.

The unassuming installation is a rather radical approach to the traditional concept of a memorial. The plain symbolism allows the memorial itself to “stands there, silent” so “the one who has to talk is you”.

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Opening hours

Memorial: Always Accessible Museum: Tue - Sun 10:00 - 19:00

Time to visit

2 hours

Transport

U55, S1, S2, S25 to Brandenburger Tor

Address

Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117, Berlin, Germany