Beyond the Brandenburg Gate, past the Reichstag, ignoring Checkpoint Charlie, one of Berlin’s most fascinating sites is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, known as the Holocaust Memorial.
Situated near some of Berlin’s most renowned monuments, the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial stands in stark contrast to those more famous sites. A paved area measuring more than 200,000 square feet hosts a labyrinth of concrete slabs, 2,711 concrete slabs to be exact, each conforming to the same length and width, but varying in height. The monument officially opened in May of 2005 after years of delay and disagreement over the design of the site.
One of the driving forces behind the memorial was Lea Rosh, a German journalist who began lobbying for its construction in 1988. Rosh and the historian Eberhard Jäckel founded the Association for the Promotion of the Establishment of a Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe that same year. Not long after proclaiming her vision and initiating her effort, the Bundestag passed a resolution in support of the memorial project and, in 1994, a design competition was announced. Memorial proposals were then submitted to a jury of representatives from the fields of architecture, history, art, urban design, politics and administration. American architect Peter Eisenman eventually emerged as the winner and construction began in April of 2003.
The site, located near the Brandenburg Gate, embassies and cultural institutions, was chosen to stress the importance of the memorial while emphasizing its public character. The number of slabs or steles is not symbolic, but rather fit the dimensions designed by Eisenman. The slabs are made of gray concrete treated with a protective chemical coating that allows for the easy removal of graffiti and other forms of defacement. The final cost of the memorial was 27.6 million Euros, provided by the German state budget.
The memorial is not without critics and controversy. The design of the monument itself has seen great criticisms both before and after the opening of the site. Many feel the purpose of the monument is too abstract, as there is no official marker at the site to explain it as a memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Others have attacked the city of Berlin for waiting until the following century to erect a memorial to those lost in the Holocaust. Some have criticized it for only commemorating Jewish victims of the Holocaust, while others disagree with memorials of any kind that focus on one of Germany’s darkest periods.
An Information Centre located at the site of the memorial provides further explanation to the significance of the memorial. A quote from Primo Levi, an Italian Holocaust survivor, is displayed in the lobby of the centre. It reads: “It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.”
The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe is located at Cora-Berliner-Strasse 1 and is accessible at all times of the day. The Information Centre is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. from April to September and 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. October to March. The centre offers public guided tours Saturdays and Sundays, with an English language tour every Sunday at 4:00 p.m. Guided group tours can be arranged through the centre for a fee of 45 euros per group. An audio guided tour can be rented for 4 Euros and is available in both English and German. The Holocaust Memorial is a short walk from the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate and can also be reached by public transportation, via the Potsdamer Platz exit on the U-Bahn Line 2, Lines 1, 2, or 25 of the S-Bahn and Bus Lines 100, 200, 347, M41, or M85.
Written by Morgen Young for EuropeUpClose.com