As the sun begins to set on another touristy day out in Berlin, we approach one of the monuments I have been looking forward to seeing most : the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is no different to the other major landmarks we’ve explored the past few days, equally surrounded by amazed tourists keen to catch a group selfie for Facebook, or a clean shot for Instagram.
There is a girl posing with her tongue and bum sticking out, in what I’m guessing is supposed to be a sexy pose. It’s not sexy, nor appropriate. There are children running around the seemingly never-ending rows of imposing concrete blocks (2,711 organised in 54 rows to be precise), naturally amused by the design of the improvised playground, yet unaware of its historical meaning.
Watching the giant 19,000m2 structure, one is hit by a range of emotions. Firstly, there is the sheer scale. The blocks literally scatter into the horizon, in a visual which helps visitors comprehend the significance of Nazi crimes.
Secondly, the sight is memorable but not beautiful. On the contrary, it is cold, uneasy and confusing. Here is, in the world of the designer Peter Eisenman himself, a monument made to represent an ordered system that has lost all touch with human reason. It resembles a cemetery, but of course it is so much more, a shrine to the victims of the most extreme form of hatred by a modern state and people.
There is also something novel about it, in the honesty with which Berlin’s architectural landscape acknowledges the tragedy. The Memorial isn’t shamefully secluded in a poor neighborhood most tourists might hopefully never come across. It’s not a hidden gem only a keen historian would think to look for. Rather, it is located one block south of the Brandenburg Gate, in the Friedrichstadt suburb, the very cultural heart of the city.
The same can be said about the separate memorial dedicated to gypsy victims of the Holocaust, which can be found right around the corner from the Reichstag. The memorial is one of Berlin’s must-see monuments. Access is not limited by any barriers or entry fee, so make sure you go and check it out if you’re in the area.