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- Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany
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It consists of a 19,000-square-metre (200,000 sq ft) site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or "stelae", arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The stelae are 2.38 metres (7 ft 10 in) long, 0.95 metres (3 ft 1 in) wide and vary in height from 0.2 to 4.7 metres (7.9 in to 15 ft 5.0 in). They are organized in rows, 54 of them going north–south, and 87 heading east–west at right angles but set slightly askew. An attached underground "Place of Information" (German: Ort der Information) holds the names of approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem.
Building began on April 1, 2003, and was finished on December 15, 2004. It was inaugurated on May 10, 2005, sixty years after the end of World War II in Europe, and opened to the public two days later. It is located one block south of the Brandenburg Gate, in the Mitte neighborhood. The cost of construction was approximately €25 million.
According to Eisenman's project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. The Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe official English website states that the design represents a radical approach to the traditional concept of a memorial, partly because Eisenman said the number and design of the monument had no symbolic significance.
However, observers have noted the memorial's resemblance to a cemetery. The abstract installation leaves room for interpretation, the most common being that of a graveyard. "The memorial evokes a graveyard for those who were unburied or thrown into unmarked pits, and several uneasily tilting stelae suggest an old, untended, or even desecrated cemetery." Many visitors have claimed that from outside the memorial, the field of grey slabs resemble rows of coffins. While each stone slab is approximately the size and width of a coffin, Eisenman has denied any intention to resemble any form of a burial site. The memorial's grid can be read as both an extension of the streets that surround the site and an unnerving evocation of the rigid discipline and bureaucratic order that kept the killing machine grinding along. Wolfgang Thierse, the president of Germany's parliament, described the piece as a place where people can grasp "what loneliness, powerlessness and despair mean". Thierse talked about the memorial as creating a type of mortal fear in the visitor. Visitors have described the monument as isolating, triggered by the massive blocks of concrete, barricading the visitor from street noise and sights of Berlin.
Many visitors and Berliners have also interpreted the contrast between the grey flat stones and the blue sky as a recognition of the "dismal times" of the Holocaust. As one slopes downwards into the memorial entrance, the grey pillars begin to grow taller until they completely consume the visitor. Eventually the grey pillars become smaller again as visitors ascend towards the exit. Some have interpreted this as the rise and fall of the Third Reich or the Regime's gradual momentum of power that allowed them to perpetrate such atrocities on the Jewish community. The space in between the concrete pillars offers a brief encounter with the sunlight. As visitors wander through the slabs the sun disappears and reappears. One is constantly tormented with the possibility of a warmer, brighter life. Some have interpreted this use of space as a symbolic remembrance of the volatile history of European Jews whose political and social rights constantly shifted. Many visitors have claimed walking through the memorial makes one feel trapped without any option other than to move forward. Some claim the downward slope that directs you away from the outside symbolically depicts the gradual escalation of the Third Reich's persecution of the European Jewish community. First, they were forced into ghettos and removed from society and eventually they were removed from existence. The more a visitor descends into the memorial, he or she is without any visible contact of the outside world. He or she is completely ostracized and hidden from the world. It is common for groups of visitors to lose each other as they wander deeper into the memorial. This often reminds one of the separation and loss of family among the Jewish community during the Holocaust.
Some have interpreted the shape and color of the grey slabs to represent the loss of identity during the Nazi regime. As one moves into the memorial, the space between the shapes widen. Identity in a regime is largely shaped by belongingness defined through 'sameness' and the "repetition of the same". Some blocks are spaced father apart and are isolated from other blocks. This is often understood as a symbolic representation of the forced segregation and confinement of Jews during the Nazi regime. The continuation of "sameness" and unity in the Nazi regime depended on the act of exclusion. Architectural historian Andrew Benjamin has written that the spatial separation of certain blocks represents "a particular [as] no longer an instance of the whole". The lack of unified shape within the group of blocks has also been understood as a symbolic representation of the "task of remembering". Some of the blocks appear to be unfinished. Many see this unfinished appearance as asserting that the task of remembering the Holocaust is never over. Benjamin has said "The monument works to maintain the incomplete". As the effects of the Holocaust are impossible to fully represent, the memorial's structures have remained unfinished. The missing parts of the structure illustrate the missing members of the Jewish community that will never return. The destruction of the Holocaust has resulted in a missing epoch of Jewish heritage.
The memorial's structures also deny any sense of collectivity. Some have interpreted this to reflect the lack of collective guilt amongst the German population. Others have interpreted the spatial positioning of the blocks to represent an individual guilt for the Holocaust. Many Germans have viewed the memorial as targeting German society and claim the memorial is presented as "an expression of our – non-Jewish Germans' – responsibility for the past". The site is also enclosed by borders of trees and Berlin's center city. The enclosure from these borders has often evoked feelings of entrapment. This can be understood as a symbolic representation of the closure of European and American borders following the Evian Conference that forced Jews to stay in Germany.
Three years after the official opening of the memorial, half of the blocks made from compacting concrete started to crack. While some interpret this defect as an intentional symbolization of the immortality and durability of the Jewish community, the Memorials' Foundation deny this. Many analyze the lack of individual names on the monument as an illustration of the unimaginable number of murdered Jews in the Holocaust. In this way, the memorial illustrates that the number of Jewish individuals lost in the Holocaust was so colossal that is impossible to physically visualize.
Several have noted that the number of stelae is identical to the number of pages in the Babylonian Talmud.