Monday, May 9, 2005

BERLIN — After years of debate and delay, Germany today will dedicate its national Holocaust memorial, an undulating field of concrete slabs on a site resonant with both the terror of German history and the vibrancy of today’s reunited Berlin.

Parliament President Wolfgang Thierse will join Jewish leaders for the opening ceremony at the sprawling monument near the Brandenburg Gate in the center of the city.

The completed field already draws sightseers, who have been kept out by a construction fence that will come down Thursday, when the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe opens to the public.

Visitors will be able to walk into the field from any point and wander among the tilting slabs and uneven ground intended to recall the disorientation of the Holocaust’s victims. There is no statue, plaque, inscription or familiar symbol to tell people what to think or feel.

“I want it to be a part of ordinary, daily life,” its designer, New York architect Peter Eisenman, said yesterday. “People who have walked by say it’s very unassuming. … I like to think that people will use it for shortcuts, as an everyday experience, not as a holy place.”

The field is near the site of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s bunker and, for 28 years, lay in the no man’s land of the Berlin Wall built by communist authorities in East Berlin to keep people from leaving during the Cold War.

Today’s reunified Berlin is much in evidence, too, with the new construction on Pariser Platz nearby and a new U.S. Embassy going up across the street.

Mr. Eisenman said he wouldn’t mind skateboarders, children playing hide-and-seek or even graffiti among the slabs. Asked whether it would demean the project’s meaning if someone scratched Nazi symbols on it, he was noncommittal.

“Maybe it would. Maybe it wouldn’t,” Mr. Eisenman said. “Maybe it would add to it.”

The project was first proposed by writer Lea Rosh in 1988. After years of debate and hesitation about how Germany should remember Holocaust victims, politicians rallied behind the idea in the late 1990s.

Wrangling over details persisted even after Mr. Eisenman’s final design was approved in 1999. People argued over whether it should commemorate non-Jewish victims as well or, given the lack of symbols, whether it should be more overtly Jewish. Its abstract design led to the addition of an information center beneath it with exhibits on Hitler’s campaign to wipe out European Jews. Mr. Eisenman was skeptical of the addition but now says it turned out well.

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