by Kina Lin-Wilmoth
The events leading up to and including World War Two lie in the heart of the German national psyche, just as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe lies in the heart of its national capital. No ordinary single-structured memorial – perhaps a statue with a plaque displaying names and dates – could ever properly pay tribute to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It seems therefore entirely appropriate that Eisenman’s 1,900 square metre design takes a radical approach at memorialisation.
Located a stone’s throw away from the city’s iconic Brandenburger Tor, the Holocaust Memorial is a must-see for visitors and locals in Berlin. It’s occupation of a central block in Mitte between 18th Century neoclassical gate and the late 20th Century high-rise development speaks to the Holocaust’s significance in history, as a period in time from which Germany looks optimistically forward, yet never forgets. The construction of the 2711 concrete slabs that collectively make up the memorial was a major step forward for Germany in coming to terms with its Nazi past. And what some critics denounce as a lack of clarity in its intent (Where are the names of the people? Dates and places?), I would argue serves to convey the scope and brutality of the Holocaust in an abstract and more conceptual manner without being overly sentimental.
While not explicitly representative of anything, the ‘stelae’ can be thought of as tombstones, yet lack any descriptive marking. They rise out of the street level, the grid’s axes slightly askew to the city streets, and stand firmly and become more menacing as you are drawn into the centre of the memorial.
The arrangement of oppressive and anonymous concrete slabs ranging in 0.2 to 4.7 metres tall in rows creates an undeniably uneasy atmosphere, while the uneven ground from which they rise invokes a sense of insecurity and anxiety. This disorientation in a highly ordered system serves as a reminder of the systemic measures in which an organised society committed genocide. My first visit here left me feeling lost and filled with loneliness, surrounded by grey and concrete and suitably solemn.
The memorial is thought provoking and moving. Its understated design serves only to highlight the scale of the Holocaust and acts as a step forward in Germany’s reconciliation with its turbulent past.