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. This is the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known 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?
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The memorial itself can’t be explained. The architect, New York’s Peter Eisenmann, always refused to do so. The memorial has to be experienced by walking through. You’ll find that the paths between the blocks or stele (2,711 of different sizes and shapes, not two of them alike) are very narrow and uneven, so watch your step! 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. Some of them are very low, others are taller than a full-grown man. It’s o.k. to talk as you walk between the blocks it, but playing hide-and-seek is not a good idea as this is a memorial for 6 million people who died a horrible death.
Underground Information Center
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. 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.
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 one for the gypsies. Members of both groups were sent to camps and murdered as well during the Third Reich.