Just south of the Brandenburg Gate is Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, with its two thousand, seven hundred and eleven gray concrete slabs, or stelae. They are identical in their horizontal dimensions (reminiscent of coffins), differing vertically (from eight inches to more than fifteen feet tall), arranged in a precise rectilinear array over 4.7 acres, allowing for long, straight, and narrow alleys between them, along which the ground undulates. The installation is a living experiment in montage, a Kuleshov effect of the juxtaposition of image and text. The text in question is the title of the memorial: in German, Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas—a Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
The Holocaust Memorial is a monument that should be visited to be really understood in the truest sense of the word. The individual concrete blocks are laid out on an undulating background, divided up by symmetrical paths. The blocks gradually increase in size as they move into the centre, allowing just a fraction of light to penetrate through. The many different paths create a maze and a sense of “getting lost” among the grey, monotonous blocks, which combined with the lack of light inside the monument engender a particularly strange feeling for the visitor.
The Holocaust Memorial is quite unique in the fact that it allows visitors to form their own interpretation and feelings. The Information Point is the permanent exhibition located in the underground area below the Memorial and is very well defined as a true place of memory. The Italian writer Primo Levi’s quote “It happened, and therefore it could happen again; this is the core of what we have to say,” is written on the wall at the main entrance in large letters; immediately stimulating the reflection of the visitor.The exhibition design is brilliant, with the rooms fitted in the same material and colours used for the Memorial above it.The idea behind the exhibition was to narrate the horror of the holocaust from the perspective of many different people. The systematic murder of the masses created an almost faceless act that the exhibition intends to recover for its victims.
Architect Peter Eisenman, 72, has come up with several explanations that give meaning to the Holocaust memorial. At times he spoke of “divergence in concept”, other times of the “illusion of order” or the “absolute axiality” that had been undermined. Or of the “hegemony of the visual” that had to be overcome. The interpretations of Wolfgang Thierse, the president of Germany’s parliament, are easier to understand: He hopes that a place has been created where it can be grasped “what loneliness, powerlessness and despair mean,” a space of “sensuous and emotional power.” But is it really possible to sense mortal fear? And how exactly can it be triggered by this mass of concrete, surrounded as it is with the street noise of a busy metropolis?
(Photographs by Eva Spirova)