Walking through the “Friedrichstadt” district at the heart of Berlin, you find yourself in front of a wave of concrete pillars. A grid that seems to have no end. Its grim gray color contrasting with the greens of the “TeichimTiergarten”. This is no ordinary place; this is “The Memorial of the Holocaust”!
About The “The Memorial of The Holocaust”
Also known as “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”, is a one of a kind project that was built to honor the Jews who lost their lives during the tragic events of WWII under the Nazi regime. It is located at the heart of Berlin, on the former location of the wall that once divided the city, and pretty close to “Hitler’s bunker” the place where Hitler took his own life.
About The Architect
Peter Eisenman the designer of this project is an internationally recognized American architect, educator, and theorist living in New York. He is famous for using the deconstruction style in his projects, and for his various writings in the architecture field. He is also considered as one of “The New York Five” along with Michael Graves, and others.
How It All Began
In the 1980s the idea of having a memorial to the victims of the holocaust emerged from some German citizens. By time it gained more public support, till the German parliament gave its confirmation to execute the project. As a result The German government held two competitions. The first with more than 500 proposals and two finalists, but the chancellor rejected it. Therefor another competition followed in which the design of Peter Eisenman won the first place. Consequently, The construction began on 2003, and the project’s opening was on the 10th of May 2005. It was a part of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of “Victory in Europe Day”, the day when the Allies accepted the surrender of the Germans, marking the end of WWII.
What Is It Like?
The “Field” -as the designer calls it- extends on 19000 square meters of 2711 concrete pillars or “Stelae”, and an information center extending beneath the memorial.
Each pillar is 2.38*0.95m with varying heights from 0 to 4.7 m. Narrow pathways separate them apart by only 0.95m, allowing only one person to pass at a time.
The Concept Behind “The Memorial of The Holocaust”
Peter Eisenman expressed that the main aim of the project was to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere. To represent the strict and cruel, yet seemingly organized regime that has lost its contact with the human reason. He described it as “The Field of Otherness”, and said that to be a Jew is to be an “Other”. That was the feeling he wanted to communicate, how to be an “Other” who is lost in space and time.
The inspiration came from the personal account of a girl who lost her mother in one of the concentration camps. She said: “I felt alone and lost in space. I didn’t know how to move or what to do.”, those were the feelings he decided to convey.
The sound and space are different, people are there for a second and then gone, even the ground and the pillars undulate up and down giving a sense of instability and disorientation.
Although Eisenman stated that the number and shape of the pillars have no significance, the abstraction and ambiguity have inspired people to project their own thoughts and feelings on it. Some saw it as a cemetery for the victims who lost their lives, and those who never had a proper burial. Others saw that the lacking of any symbols represents the victims’ huge number, that they are impossible to count.
The Users’ Experience
However, the users’ experience is the complete opposite to the seemingly dark metaphor. People go there all the time to hangout, spend their leisure time and meet with friends. You can see the kids playing, laughing, and running around, others jump from one pillar to another having fun.
In one of his interviews Eisenman said that this contradiction is intentional. He wanted kids to have fun and return home telling their grandparents: “We had a great time at the holocaust memorial!”, not even knowing what it means, creating a shock to the elders, a shock that would reach to the heart of the community.
Photo Courtesy: Linesmag
The Information Center
But not only the field that gives you an unforgettable experience, but so does The Information Center. Its entrance is located near the site’s eastern edge and extending beneath the field. Upon entering you can clearly see that it reflects the field above, by its coffered ceiling having the same shape of the pillars, also The partitions, benches, and the lighting features, as if connecting the memory above with the history below. The exhibition consists of four rooms, telling the tragedy from the personal perspective of the victims:
The Room of Dimensions
It tells the story from a personal dimension of the victims. It shows their letters, and their own accounts of the events.
The Room of Families
It tells the stories of whole families before, during and after the events, those who survived and those who died.
The Room of Names
Displaying audio-visually the names of the victims, and narrating their biographies in an attempt to immortalize their story.
The Room of Sites
Displaying information about the concentration camps all over Europe and the number of Jews who were killed there.
In conclusion, “The Memorial of the Holocaust” is a controversial project. Some people say that it has nothing to do with the Jews except for its name. Some just go there to have a good time. However, others see it as an embodiment of the human suffering that not only the victims of the holocaust suffered, but as a human experience that we all go through. Maybe this controversy is the whole point! To keep the discussion going, to tell their stories once more. And most importantly to keep their memory unforgotten and alive forevermore, at the heart of Berlin.