Episode 19: The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

holocaust memorial

  • Designed by the US-American architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Bruno Happold
  • Constructions were completed in 2004
  • Opened to the public in 2005
  • Free of charge exhibition at “Place of Information”

If you are interested in monuments and memorials – Berlin is the place you should explore. Throughout the last centuries, Berlin has been the location of many historic moments in time that changed the course of the world forever. From utmost tragic to highly blissful – the scope of events that have taken place here is quite multifaceted.

But how do we remember past events today in our busy everyday lives? You will probably agree that a physical reference point in the present is helpful to do so. Just think about it: this is also why people buy tiny cups with the Colosseum painted on them from the crappy souvenir shop during their trip to Rome, or why you hold on to that movie ticket from a romantic first date with your boyfriend – because you want to remember these moments, and what they meant to you.

Memorials and monuments allow historic events to be represented and commemorated in today’s context, as they become a substantial part of the cityscape. But whenever we look at them, it is important to keep in mind that a monument or memorial has usually been designed by a person or a collective in retrospect. It shapes in which way the designer wants us to remember a specific happening.

Berlin’s blockbuster monument is definitely the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. As its name suggests, it is dedicated to the Jews of Europe who died during and before the holocaust. This mega memorial is located next to the Brandenburg Gate, in the heart of the city. There is no way you can miss it, also because it is incredibly huge: it measures 19.000 square meters. That is almost the size of three soccer fields. You can basically imagine the layout of the memorial as a giant grid pattern with a wavy surface on which gray concrete steles are placed. These steles vary in height. Some of them are almost at ground level, while the highest ones measure almost 5 meters. All in all, the memorial consists of 2.711 concrete steles, which create a grid of small alleys that lead through the field of steles. At every point in the field, the alleys are exactly 95 cm wide.

Once you enter the field, the steles around you grow higher, and you might start feeling dizzy or disoriented because of the wavy floor you are walking on. By design, it is only possible to walk the field alone, as the alleys are too narrow and thus don’t allow for you to walk side by side with another person. You might cross other people in the intersections, but they will disappear again around the next corner. It is intended as a solo-experience.

This is a rather unconventional memorial, don’t you agree? Just compare it to the Soviet Memorial or the Victory Column. In contrast to for more traditional memorials or monuments, the Jewish memorial invites you to be active and to experience it rather than to simply look at it. It wants to convey emotions and a distinct atmosphere rather than factual information.

But of course information are available as well, at the so called “Place of Information”, an underground space and a mini exhibition on the holocaust, on individual biographies and Jewish life in Germany.

If you want to know more about how the memorial was received by the public you should definitely listen to our talk below:

Photo: Roberta Caldas | Episode: Ute Linden

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