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Holocaust Memorial Berlin Guide

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Close to the Brandenburg Gate, between the American Embassy and a neighborhood of former East Berlin 1980s concrete slab residential buildings, there is a field of dark grey blocks.

Officially, this is the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, but is more commonly referred to as the Holocaust Memorial.  

It was opened in 2005. What does this rather unusual memorial signify and why is it situated at this very spot?

The memorial itself can’t be explained. The architect, New York’s Peter Eisenmann, always refused to do so.

What he did say was that he wanted to convey, a sense of discomfort and confusion, order without reason.

Eisenman was inspired by a Holocaust survivor who told him of her arrival at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

She told him how she was forcefully removed from her mother, who she would never see again.

And she spoke of the disorientation and the fear that gripped her from that moment on.

The memorial has to be experienced by walking through.

Holocaust Memorial Berlin

You’ll find that the paths between the 2,711 blocks or stele are very narrow and uneven, so watch your step!

The slabs are all uniform in length, 2.5 m (8 ft.) as well as width, 1 m (3 ft.).

What they vary in are their heights, ranging from 20 cm (8 in.) to almost 5 m (15 ft). Some of them are very low, others are taller than a full-grown man.

Txalapartari, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There is a sector with even paths designed to be accessible for people who can’t handle the uneven part.

The blocks are made of concrete and coated with anti-graffiti-paint.

Other than the memorial’s name, there are no symbols, no names of victims, and no names of concentration camps.

There are also no mentions of Jews or Judaism, even the number of concrete slabs has no significance.

Underground Information Center

Berlin inside Holocaust memorial

Under the surface is the “Information Center” which is part of the memorial and free of charge.

You’ll have to undergo a short security inspection and they won’t allow too many people at once in the center, for fire protection reasons.

In this small museum, you’ll learn about other Holocaust memorials, namely on the site of the concentration camps.

It documents the persecution and extermination of the Jews of Europe.

In a second room, you’ll learn about different sites of mass murder all over Europe, some of them you might not have heard of yet.

Maybe the most touching room is the one, where they show you biographies of Jewish families all over Europe in countries as different as Greece and France.

You’ll see family pictures, photographs of shops or houses.

You learn that not all the sons met their fathers expectations concerning their professional career, you see young mothers with babies and proud grandparents.

And the last piece of information is a date and a place of extinction for the whole family. This section is designed to give some of the victims back their faces and stories.

The field of stele and the underground information center are designed to be visited together.

But even when you don’t have the time to go underground, the memorial will not fail to touch you.

Historic Site in Berlin

The site of the memorial has not historic meaning when it comes to the history of Jewish life in Berlin.

But it is situated on a prominent location when it comes to the history of the perpetrators.

Between the memorial and the American Embassy is the site of Joseph Goebbels’s official residence and air raid shelter.

And on the other side of the memorial is the site of the “Führerbunker”, the large shelter, where Hitler spent the last weeks of his life.

The Nazi buildings are gone; the memorial of the Jewish victims is huge and prominent.

Berlin Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism

Other Memorials in the Area

After the decision about the memorial was taken in the German parliament, the members of other groups of victims felt alienated.

They belong to groups who had been discriminated against in Germany long after the war: homosexuals and gypsies (known as “Sinti and Roma” in German as the German word for gypsy is seen as offensive).

So, in the Tiergarten, a park across the street from the memorial and the Brandenburg Gate, there are two more memorials.

One for homosexuals and the other is for the gypsies.

Members of both groups were sent to camps and murdered as well during the Third Reich.

Check out our blog on the Jewish Museum and the Topography of Terror Exhibition.

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About The Author

Anne Wittig

Anne was born in East Berlin and came of age in the unified city. She has an intimate relationship with her city of birth and still calls Berlin home. For the past 10 years, she has managed and written Free Tours by Foot's Berlin blog, detailing the best places to go, where to stay, and what to do in her hometown. This blog has been featured on Berlin's official website, mainstream press like Berlingske, and local blogs like Over 14,000 visitors to Berlin have taken a tour from Free Tours by Foot.
Updated: December 1st, 2022
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