Holocaust Memorial: Five Things You Should Know

Of all the memorials in Berlin, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is the most renown. Situated right in the centre of town, it is clearly visible from the glass dome of the Reichstag and just a stone’s throw away from Brandenburger Tor. These neighbouring and famous historical sights make for the perfect tourist route. And the worst kept secret in Berlin.

Is the number of concrete stones symbolic?

In total there are 2711 concrete slabs, known as ‘stelae’ but there is absolutely no significance behind this number at all. It was simply a question of how many stelae could fit in the allotted area. Despite what you may have heard, there is no correlation between the number of tomb-like stones and the 6 million Jews who lost their lives during the Holocaust.

The 4.7-acre space is certainly large enough to comfortably host the grid-like arrangement of imposing stelae. An undulating concrete maze awaits you and your interpretation.

Who designed the memorial?

Peter Eisenman - Photo AFP.
The fate of the memorial’s design stems from a competition in 1994. However, unsatisfied with the first winning draft, Chancellor Helmut Kohl took matters into his own hands and called for a second competition. It was in this round that renown American architect  Peter Eisenman was selected. After much collaboration and a down-scaling, a memorial design was settled upon alongside the ‘Place of Information.’ The memorial finally opened on the 12th May 2005, sixty years after the end of World War 2.

Does somebody have to clean and rid the memorial of graffiti?

Unlike the rest of Berlin, this memorial is graffiti free and will remain that way. A hot topic of debate, each stele has been protected with anti-graffiti spray. This resistant chemical coating was produced by a company named Degussa, who once owned ‘Degesch’. It soon emerged, however, that this subsidiary had been directly involved in the production of Zyklon B, a chemical used for poisoning in gas chambers.  Excluding every company once associated with Nazi Germany was deemed impossible and hence the partnership with Degussa continued, despite extreme controversy.

Are any two slabs identical?

Every stone stands at a varied angle and slightly askew. Each rectangular block is unique.  Their measurements are equal, however. Each one is 2.38m long and 0.95m wide.
These claustrophobic and sobering grey maze walls soon surround you as you follow a narrow pathway of choice. Especially eerie in the dark, you are welcome to interact with this memorial when and where you please.

Why is the memorial just for Jews?

This is one question which has often been raised and used as a criticism against the memorial. As a result, other memorials have since been erected in Berlin. These too are also solely dedicated to one group of victims. Not long ago, in fact, the memorial to Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism was opened around the corner from the Jewish memorial in 2012.

For more information, visit the ‘Place of Information’ which is underground in the south-east corner of the memorial and free of charge. Time your visit wisely to avoid queuing for hours as it is well worth it. The texts inside the information centre well and truly compensate for the minimal explanations above ground.

By Alice Higgins
Alice joined the Berlin startup scene in July 2014 and works for an online travel company. Originally from London UK, she swapped one capital for another and now details her latest discoveries on DiaryDE.

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