In Berlin, we went to see the Holocaust Memorial. It was raining as we arrived. The memorial is rows and rows of concrete blocks – they go back and back and back. They start off at knee height and as you walk further and further in they rise above your head and the ground undulates underneath your feet until you are so low down, or maybe the towering slabs are so high, that the city sounds muted and far away, and you feel like you are sealed in.
You can’t see the city any more. You can’t see anything any more, except grey. And far, far above you, glimpses of sky. But only glimpses, because the sky is mostly blocked out by the concrete rising above your head for several feet, threatening to overpower everything. Everything is grey.
Every so often, you see someone passing by a few columns over, out of the corner of your eye. But by the time you turn your head to look, they’ve gone. It is very bleak and isolating, almost like flashes of fear displayed in sight and in sound, surrounded by grey blocks.
This was my experience inside the memorial. And I say inside because I WAS inside. Such is the power of this particular memorial. Standing and looking is not enough. You get to experience what this FEELS like.
The rain ran down the sides of the blocks in rolling droplets, like tears. When I came out the other side and back into the city, I was crying.
This memorial, so clinically titled ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’ in classic German style, was designed by Peter Eisenmann, an Architect. There’s a long explanation in German (translatable via Google, or if your German is good) on the official web site of the Memorial about what this memorial represents, and that, too, is cold and clinical. The stand-out sentence being ‘It shows that a supposedly rational and ordered system loses touch with human reason’. Which explains the sensation of being inside this maze of concrete pillars very well.
The Memorial occupies 4.7 acres of land next to a busy street that runs between the ultra-modern Potsdamer Platz and the historic and regal Brandernburg Gate in central Berlin. It was built in 2004 and opened to the public in 2005. Maybe it took Germany this long to feel ready for it. I think they did a good job of creating something that would stand as tribute to the millions of lost lives, whilst acknowledging the senselessness with which it was carried out. The memorial consists of 2,711 concrete slabs, otherwise known as ‘stelae’. It is…vast.
Although completely grey in itself, there was some colour to be found on the day that I visited. It being autumn in central Europe, the trees all around the outside of the memorial were glowing a brilliant yellow. Once lost in the faceless stone corridors that make up the middle of the memorial, the only thing you can see, right off in the distance, is this colour. Stray leaves have fallen in between the slabs.
And the rain had one last effect to contribute. Emerging once again into the daylight, I was in a position to see the tops of the blocks that were shallow enough to see over. The water reflected the yellow haze of the trees perfectly.