by Nicolas de Bontin
Situated in between the Brandenburger Tor and Potsdamer Platz, two of the more well-known and historical tourist attractions, is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or also known as The Holocaust Memorial. New York based architect Peter Eisenman’s design for the memorial was given the green light in 1999 and construction was completed in 2005. Compromising one city block the memorial consists of 2,711 concrete slabs all identical in width but vary in height and are constructed on an uneven sloping 9,000m2 plot of land. The memorial stands as a remembrance to the murdered Jewish victims of World War II. The details of which are not easily recognized or found within the memorial. There is no signage or posted information except for an underground information center that details all the names of all known victims gathered from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem. The information center is buried within the middle of the memorial and not easily found adding to the seemingly vague and uniform identity of the memorial. It is this vagueness and abstractness of this memorial that has left the door open for praise and criticism.
Peter Eisenman’s Controversial Design
His plan has instigated a certain deal of controversy since its completion in 2005. A lot of the controversy surrounds the level of abstractness and lack of detail commemorating the meaning of the memorial. There is no signage or representation of who the murders were of the victims this memorial is supposed to represent. In this way it becomes more about remembering those who died and making sure they are not forgotten and less about taking responsibility and highlighting that Germany itself was responsible. This lack of obvious representation and signage is not without benefits however. Shying away from the traditional monument or museum Eisenmann’s design has several powerful advantages compared to more traditional types of remembrance. I would argue that the lack of information on how to experience the memorial and the overwhelming sense of anonymity and confusion induces a very profound emotional experience. It is the abstractness and uniform anonymity of the memorial that induces the dehumanizing effect of complete disillusionment. The uniform design of 2,711 concrete slabs, that are eerily representative of graves in a cemetery, really force you to be physically uncomfortable when dealing with one of the most uncomfortable topics of our human existence. Therefore, the abstractness of this memorial, characterized by its design, is the defining attribute that gives the memorial its power in inducing significant emotion.
The issue of dealing with the collective guilt of a nation is integral to how you decide to memorialize and remember the past. After the atrocities committed in World War II and The Holocaust, as the main Holocaust memorial in Germany’s capital it can be argued that it does not suffice to do justice in remembering Germany’s troubled past. It does however, remain one of the most emotionally powerful memorials in remembering the victims through the depersonalizing and emotionally difficult experience of traversing through it. In this way, the memorial can be a very innovative and profound way to experience the difficult subject of the Holocaust. Instead of telling viewers how they should feel and what information they need to know, it is the architectural design that acts to produce an uncomfortable yet unforgettable experience open to the personal interpretation for each visitor which to me, makes it all the more significant.