by Kelly Brisk
Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust memorial for the murdered Jews is one of the main tourist attractions in Berlin, situated right next to the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag. This is clearly because the mass murdering of the Jewish people is a key element of German history – therefore it is something that is compulsory, that Berlin and the rest of the world acknowledge and pay tribute to. However in the case of the Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas, is it in reality successful in commemorating all those Jewish people who were persecuted during the Holocaust and throughout Hitler’s reign of terror? Does the architecture convey the sincerity of the situation back then for the Jewish people and does it create an atmosphere and environment for people to remember their legacy and suffering in a respectful manner? It would appear not.
Of course there is a degree of truth in Eisenman’s original plans, a 4.7 acre site covered in two thousand, seven hundred and eleven slabs of steel. The creation of the memorial with its slanted base and different sized blocks can without a doubt create an atmosphere in which visitors feel lost, alone and disorientated. Therefore succeeding in attempting to recreate just a fraction of how the Jewish victims must have been feeling at the time of the Holocaust. However this can also lead to the creation of a playground, which is in reality what has happened. With the temptation to run up and down, between and around the blocks, to chase after each other and hide from one another, not a second thought is spared to remember the suffering and pain felt by the Jewish people.
When people finally stop running and jumping for a minute and think, considering if they know what the memorial site stands for and why they are there and what feelings are supposed to be produced, they are more than often unfamiliar with the idea behind the concept. Sure they can state that it is a memorial for the murdered Jews, but more often than not this is only down to the reading of the sign. They are unaware of how the loneliness and disorientation that the memorial is supposed to represent, is a recreation of the depression felt by the Jewish victims, therefore meaning they often fail to behave in the intended and respected manner.
This is heightened by the fact that the design is very simple, without any extra intricate details such as name engravings, which are common on most other memorials. It can be argued that without these the message is lost. There is no information as to whether the memorial is supposed to be representative and commemorative of all of the six million Jews that were murdered. That is assuming that we are only talking about the time of the Holocaust as there is no mention of this anywhere. Nor no reference to the significance of the fact that the memorial was built in Berlin, due to it being a symbol of recognition of Germany’s ugly National Socialist past. Or at least an attempt, seeing as this is never explicitly stated unless one enters the attached information centre. Also the term murdered does not even offer the Jews the respectful commemoration that they deserve, it does not fully express the devastation that was experienced. How the Jews were not simply murdered, they were victimised, exploited and then persecuted, undeservingly and through no fault of their own. Although the scale of the memorial is clearly vast, overall it is nothing in comparison to the scale of the persecution and suffering felt by the Jews. “Eisenman’s display is not just a symbol, but a symbol of a symbol” (Brody, 2012).
Furthermore what is worse is that Eisenman objected to the creation of the museum. After observing the reactions to the memorial for a number of days, I was fully convinced that it was unsuccessful in being a place for reflection, respect and remembrance. However after entering the attached museum, I began to feel differently, I began to feel strong emotions, deep emotions of sadness and realisation. The information centre was not only full of deeply detailed information torturing for the mind to read, but also it was beautifully laid out. In a manner that created a certain atmosphere and cluster of feelings, the design of the information was simple, raw and effective. The atmosphere remained mainly silent inside and it was almost as if other peoples’ feelings and pain could be heard, overall it was a very sobering experience. It is unbelievable that whilst people are exploring the underground information centre with such deep levels of reflection, respect and remembrance above them people are running between and across giant concrete blocks, completely unaware and oblivious.
Overall although I personally do enjoy the architecture of the memorial, I do not believe in this case that ‘form follows function’. The memorial is successful in being famous and covering such a vast space with such a grand design. However when visited it is in fact non-functional and incapable of achieving its intentions and motives. One could refer to it as the Stone Henge of Berlin. Therefore one may not say that it is an example of failed architecture, simply a failed place of remembrance.
 Brody, 2012: The Inadequacy of Berlin’s “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”. The New Yorker.