Completed in 2005, after nearly 5 years of construction, the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin serves as a reminder of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Rising out of the ground, looking like an art installation, it’s more interesting and interactive to visit than the typical memorial.
2,711 concrete pillars of heights ranging from 0.2m to 4.8m cover the area in a grid layout. You can walk among the pillars – most people do – and by doing this you get a real understanding of what they were trying to achieve when they built it. Walking along the paths between the pillars, the noise of the surrounding area slowly fades. Eventually you can hear nothing but yourself and any people who may be close by. The light dims as the pillars get higher. And the floor is purposely built so that it slopes up and down. It feels very disorientating, and it’s easy to bump into people walking an adjacent path to yours.
The memorial was designed to symbolise and also give the visitor the feeling of the loneliness and disorientation felt by Jewish people during the Holocaust. As an abstract installation, the memorial leaves itself open to interpretation. Some say the columns look like gravestones when seen from one end. However, the designer, Peter Eisenman, has denied that it was intended in this way. Others interpret the sloping floor as a representation of the Jewish community. As you move further into the memorial the floor slopes down, possibly representing the decline of the community. The rising pillars block out the sunlight and surrounding street noise, perhaps symbolising the journey into the ghettos and being isolated away from society.
It is easy to be separated from the people you visit with if they take a couple of turns, and this has been interpreted by some to symbolise the break up of Jewish families. It has also been noted that there are no names written anywhere on the memorial. While this may be due to the fact that the names of the victims are available in the underground museum along with some of their stories, others interpret it to mean that there are just too many victims and not enough space to write all of the names on the columns.
While in Berlin, I’d planned a visit to Brandenburg Gate and saw that the Holocaust Memorial was close by. Thinking it’d be ideal to be able to see it while walking there from Potsdamer Platz, I kept my eyes open for something along the way that looked like a memorial. Not really sure what I was looking for, I expected to find maybe a statue, plaque or something similar.
About halfway between Potsdamer Platz and Brandenburg Gate, hundreds of concrete blocks loomed into view on the other side of street. Intrigued, I crossed over to find out what kind of art installation it was that I probably wouldn’t get, and it turned out to actually be the memorial I had been looking for. I couldn’t believe just how big it was – this definitely was something more than just a large plaque!
I took a walk through the blocks on the rising and dipping pathways, and the further into the memorial I walked the less I could hear of the busy street close by. It was very eery, and I was parted from my friend when they took a turning up ahead of me. Although I tried to find them, it was only when we both left the memorial that we were able to find each other again.
Although memorials often encourage us to take a moment to think of those it is commemorating, the Holocaust Memorial is different in that as you walk through the pathways you can’t help but think of those affected. It has left a lasting impression on me, and I went back again a couple of years after my initial visit to go to the information centre located underneath. This gave me such a deeper understanding of the events that took place, and made me appreciate the memorial even further.
– You can find the memorial at Cora-Berliner-Straße 1. It’s opposite Tiergarten, and partway between Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz. – Please remember this is a memorial and should be treated as such, it’s considered disrespectful to climb the columns and jump across them. – The underground information centre is free to visit, and offers further information about the timeline and some individual stories of those affected by the Holocaust.
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