The Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

2 09 2007

This monster of a memorial, which was unveiled in May 2005, is located in a very central place, near the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate. It is based on a design by Peter Eisenman, an American architect. The “Field of Stelea” is made of 2,711 concrete blocks of different heights, structured in a grid pattern. It can be entered anywhere, and the blocks are supposed to form different wave-like patterns as you move through it. I didn’t really notice that. Click on the photo to enlarge.

The Memorial after rain.

The story of this memorial, in my opinion, is yet another story of Holocaust politics, of the disturbing kind. The whole story is long, beginning in 1988, and very expansive. I found it rather distasteful, being so large and conspicuous (I believe that trying to represent such an event with exaggerations, as if wishing to capture the enormity of it, is grotesque), and all the maintenance issues which came up recently are really ridiculous in my eyes.

And also, I liked the first ideas, such as Christine Jackob-Marks’ idea of a large sloping concrete surface with the names of the victims chiseled in, much better. I believe that with all the abstractness of representation and the big shocking numbers, one should never forget that the Holocaust was something that happened to actual people. Anything with names would have been more appropriate in my eyes.

But a wise friend who lives in Germany told me, when I voiced these complaints, that this memorial is not for me, but rather an internal German issue. So God bless them, I hope they had fun with it.

A more personal note.

What saved my experience there from being a complete disappointment was the complementary underground Information Center, which was very well structured and provided a lot of interesting information. But the row of souvenir shops and restaurants next to the memorial, although expected, was rather distasteful. I’m sure the message is passed even better with a glass of beer at hand, isn’t it.

View from the inside.

To take my criticism in perspective, you should know that I’m a 3rd generation to Holocaust survivors, and rather obsessed with the subject, and that I compared this memorial to other memorial sites in Berlin itself, which I felt were more appropriate and informative (I’ll get to the other memory sites later on). And you should also know that I do not believe in guilt (of any kind), but rather in responsibility and prevention, and by those standards, at least in Berlin, I think the Germans function rather well.

Opening Hours of Information Center:
April-September: Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun: 10:00-20:00.
October-March: Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sun: 10:00-19:00.
Closed on Mondays, New year’s Eve and Day, Christmas Eve and Day, Boxing Day.

The entrance is free, but they welcome donations (I think I donated enough at home).

And this is the Official Site of the Memorial.



8 responses to “The Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”

3 09 2007
Czech Daily (03:51:29) :

I made a last-minute decision about a quick weekend trip to Berlin. Do you know if there is any Berlin Wall sentry tower left standing? This is what I am missing in my quite-good photo gallery… AND which parts of Berlin look good in black-and-white? Relatively SAFE parts of Berlin, of course…. :]

3 09 2007
yonit (08:36:32) :

I did a little search and found out there are 3 towers left, one at Kieler Eck, another between Kreuzberg and Treptow on Puschkinallee, and one more on Erna-Berger-Straße near Leipziger Platz (near potsdamer platz).  Regarding the black and white question, well, I believe everything can look good in black and white, depending on the photographer…

22 09 2007
moonshiner (09:24:18) :

i have just returned from berlin, and that monument made a huge impression on me. the wave pattern? you definitely notice it as you walk through it. the ground sinks and the walls grow suddenly out of nowhere, and you find yourself almost trapped in a maze, of graves closing in on you. it's a wonderful metaphor, since from outside you have no way of guessing this is going to happen…
i happened to hear a tour guide explaining in english, that peters got the idea of the wave pattern of the ground after visiting the old jewish cemetery in prague – where the graves were piled on top of each other, creating an uneven and wavy structure.
i have pictures from the inside also, where you can see it more clearly.

22 09 2007
yonit (15:49:39) :

As I said, it didn't do anything to me. I feel that as time goes by, such abstractions (as in – too abstract) are counterproductive. It may be also considered as a "work of art", but it is a memorial, and a very specific memorial. But than again, I said I was not objective about it, and knowing about the politics of it doesn't help.

18 02 2008
Carol (18:32:20) :

I am the daughter of a man who endured the camps and he can’t understand my need to see the memorials…

I thought the Berlin memorial was very impactful — especially the sense of being devoured by the whole thing. Truly, I’m not sure any memorial could capture what it needs to. But the fact that the Germans called this a memorial to the MURDERED Jews of Europe was, to me, the most poignant aspect of the whole thing. It seems to me that it speaks to your request for responsibility over guilt.


21 02 2008
yonit (00:16:23) :

Hi Carol. Thanks for your comment. It is true that no memorial can really capture anything, but memorials are symbolic expressions of how we choose to remember, what we choose to emphasize and what we choose to ignore. The name of this particular memorial may express the responsibility over guilt issue, but I do not believe that the name is the most poignant aspect of this whole thing. It is a mammoth sitting in the middle of the city, something very present, very visible. It’s name, and the wonderful memorial center beside it, are just a small addition to what I believe represents the continuance of an emphasis I do not agree with in terms of memory – the emphasis on the scale, something which ran the great risk and indeed became the reality of making a religion out of the holocaust. I believe the holocaust should be represented as it was – something that happened to real people during the course of their real lives, and executed by real people, also, in the course of their real lives. Monuments like this one, in my eyes, choose to stun people over helping them understand, learn and change the world for the better. Berlin is full of other memorials, of which I also wrote here, which take a different approach, and which impressed me much more.

10 11 2008
Sergio (10:26:58) :

I must say that I agree with Carol, for 2 reasons. I just came back from Berlin for the first time, and saw the Memorial. The first reason is that when I went to the underground museum I saw the word “Murdered”. Usually I see “killed”, “died”, etc., like laundering the real facts of what happened there. However, in this case, I saw the word “murdered” in different languages which understand, and this had a strong impact on myself. The second reason is that the memorial does not refer only to the German Jews, but to all the European Jews murdered during the Holocaust, including my distant family in Ukraine. This is also something you will not see elsewhere. For me, this was a convincing evidence that the Germans are at least trying to assume responsibility for their past.

17 12 2010
Craig (07:14:23) :

I’m truly sorry you didn’t find this memorial meaningful. If what you saw was simply rows of concrete blocks then you didn’t allow the time necessary to understand what is there. I came to the memorial while doing research for a book, and what I found was overwhelming. If you descend into the maze, you begin to understand the idea of being lost in something so big, so beyond understanding, that it completely envelops you. The idea that the Nazis could eradicate an entire population is that big.

Yes, there are are issues with the maintenance, but looking beyond that, this place is every bit as moving as walking into the crematorium at Buchenwald or the firing pits at Sachsenhausen. At least it can be. If what you saw is concrete blocks, then I’m truly sorry for you. I saw much more. For the record I am neither Jewish, nor German.

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