The Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) is one of the most evocative and controversial monuments to the Holocaust. Located in the center of Berlin between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate, this impressive site sits on 4.7 acres. Every step of its development has been contentious - not unusual for Berlin - yet it is a vital stop on a Berlin tour.
The Architect of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
The American architect Peter Eisenmann won the project in 1997 after a series of competitions and disagreement about what was an appropriate design for such an important memorial. Eisenmann has said:
The enormity and scale of the horror of the Holocaust is such that any attempt to represent it by traditional means is inevitably inadequate ... Our memorial attempts to present a new idea of memory as distinct from nostalgia ... We can only know the past today through a manifestation in the present.
The Design of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
The centerpiece of the Holocaust memorial is the “Field of Stelae”, a literal field of dramatic 2,711 geometrically arranged concrete pillars. You can enter at any point and walk through the unevenly sloping ground, occasionally losing sight of your companions and the rest of Berlin. The solemn columns, all different in size, evoke a disorienting feeling that you can only experience when you make your way through this gray forest of concrete.
The design is meant to illicit feelings of isolation and loss - fitting for a Holocaust memorial.
Among the more contentious decisions was the choice to apply a graffiti-resistant coating. Eisenman was against it, but there was a valid worry that neo-Nazis would deface the memorial. However, that is not where the story ends.
The Degussa company responsible for creating the covering had been involved in the National-Socialist persecution of the Jews and - worse yet - their subsidiary, Degesch, produced Zyklon B (the gas used in the gas chambers).
Conduct at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
Recently, there has been more critiques surrounding the memorial - this time concerning the behavior of visitors. This is a place of remembrance and while people are encouraged to explore every inch of the site, standing on the stones, running or general partying is discouraged by guards. There has even been a parody project by Jewish artist Shahak Shapira called Yolocaust that shames disrespectful visitors.
Museum at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
To address the complaints that the memorial was not personal enough and needed to include stories of the 6 million Jews affected, an information center was added below the monument. Find the entrance on the eastern border and descend below the field of pillars (and prepare yourself for the security of metal detectors with lockers for belongings).
The museum offers an exhibition on Nazi terror in Europe with multiple rooms covering different aspects of the history. It holds all the names of Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from Yad Vashem, projected on the walls of a room while a short biography is read over loudspeakers.
All names and history are also searchable on a database at the end of the exhibit.
All texts in the exhibition center are in English and German.
Visitor Information for the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
- Address: Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117 Berlin
- Getting to the Holocaust Memorial: Metro Stop: "Potsdamer Platz" (line U2, S1, S 2, S25).
- Admission: Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.
- Guided Tours: Free tours Saturday at 15:00 (English) and Sunday at 15:00 (German); 1.5-hour duration.
Other Holocaust Memorials in Berlin
When the memorial was erected, there was controversy about it only covering the Jewish victims as many people were affected by the Holocaust. Other memorials have been created to commemorate their loss:
- Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism - Just across the street, the structure reflects the larger memorial's design with a focus on the many homosexual victims.
- Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism - The newest Holocaust memorial honors the 20,000 to 500,000 people murdered in the Porajmos.
- Stolpersteine - Subtle, gold plaques dot the sidewalks where people were forced from their home and sent to concentration camps. The "stumbling stones" are an inclusive memorial for all of the victims of the Nazi regime.
- Hitler's Bunker - The nearby site of Hitler's last days is more of a deliberate non-memorial. There is a simple information board noting the history.