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April 7, 2010

Memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe is crumbling after only five years

The huge “Memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe,” which consists of a field of 2,711 concrete slabs in the center of the city of Berlin, Germany, is crumbling only five years after it opened, according to this news article by David Crossland, published on March 31, 2010.

The daughter of President Obama walks through the Memorial, July 2013

The daughter of President Obama and Mrs. Obama walk through the Memorial, July 2013

I have not had a chance to visit Berlin since the Memorial was completed in 2005. I was there in 2002 when construction on the Memorial had just begun.  I took the photo of the construction site shown below.

View of the Reichstag with the construction site in the foreground, 2002

The Memorial with the Reichstag building in the background, 2006

View of Memorial Site with Potsdamer Platz in background, 2006

View of Potsdamer Platz before the Memorial was built, 2002

As these photos show, the Memorial in Berlin is a 5.5 acre monstrosity, which obstructs the view of important buildings like the Reichstag, which is the Capitol building of Germany, comparable to our national Capitol in Washington, DC.  The property on which the Memorial stands must be worth billions of euros.  Now this valuable property is covered with concrete blocks and 1900 of the blocks have cracks in them, according to the latest report.

Billboard at the construction site before Memorial was built

The German words on the billboard in the photo above can be translated in English as “The Holocaust never happened.”  These words were meant to be facetious, not literal.  The intent of the billboard, which was erected at the proposed site of the Memorial, was to generate interest in the Memorial, but it backfired and the sign had to be removed.

Leah Rosh and Peter Eisenman

This quote is from the German newspaper article about the crumbling Memorial:

The foundation in charge of the memorial has not ruled out that it may seek damages from Peter Eisenman, the US architect who designed it. “An independent evidence-gathering process will establish who is responsible,” said Leonie Mechelhoff, the spokeswoman for the foundation. She declined to confirm one newspaper report that a further 300 slabs were now affected.

“We won’t know how many more slabs are damaged until we have made further checks, which will start in April after the frosty weather is over,” Ms Mechelhoff said. “Then we’ll decide how to solve the problem. We expect to repair the slabs rather than replace them.”

The damage threatens to overshadow a ceremony in May to mark the fifth anniversary of what is widely regarded as one of Germany’s most important memorials.

It took 60 years for the country to erect it, and its design and location, just a short walk from the historic Brandenburg Gate, were deeply controversial. Construction experts say the type of fine concrete used and the lack of steel supports inside most of the slabs may be to blame for the damage. Frost worsens the cracks because it expands the water that has seeped into them. Another problem is the temperature differences the concrete undergoes on some days when it warms up rapidly in sunshine and then cools down in the shade.

Attempts to inject a form of resin into the cracks have failed to solve the problem.

“It’s an unacceptable situation,” said the foundation’s director, Uwe Neumärker. “No one knows if a slab will break apart one day.”

The slabs vary in height from a few centimetres to 4.7 metres. Seen from outside, they look like concrete waves. As one walks in among them, the ground slopes down, the slabs get taller and the sounds of traffic fade. The design is intended to create a sense of isolation and powerlessness, and to encourage people to think about the victims killed in extermination and concentration camps, in ghettos and in mass executions.

An underground information centre just 100m from the bunker now destroyed, where Hitler committed suicide, complements the memorial by portraying the fate of individual victims and explaining the industrial-scale killing.

Before it was opened, the memorial was variously dismissed by critics as an “adventure playground”, a “theme park of horror” and a disturbing attempt by Germany to draw a line under the Nazi past that has plagued it since 1945. There were fears that tourists would defile the site by sunbathing or munching cheeseburgers on the slabs, and that neo-Nazis would descend on it to spray swastikas on the concrete.

Martin Walser, a leading German intellectual and author, once referred to it as a “football pitch-sized nightmare, the monumentalisation of shame”. Even Paul Spiegel, the leader of Germany’s Jewish community at the time, complained that it only focused on the victims and made no reference to the people who committed the genocide.

Others said it would distract attention from Germany’s authentic memorial sites, the concentration camps Dachau, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen.

But the criticism has subsided and the fears that it would be abused by tourists and neo-Nazis have been proved wrong. Swastikas have been found daubed on some pillars, but that has happened far less often than expected.

Security guards patrol the site and politely ask people who climb on the slabs to get down. Children run around and play hide-and-seek inside the memorial, but Mr Eisenman has always said that is not a problem. He intended it to be a living part of Berlin’s landscape, open from all sides 365 days a year. Besides, school groups quickly fall silent when confronted with the tragic fates and staggering statistics of the genocide in the underground museum.

“Most people use the memorial very sensibly,” Mr Neumärker said. “I don’t know when we had the last graffiti. Every normal Berlin house facade is defaced more often.”

Many say the monument resembles a gigantic cemetery, which seems appropriate given that the majority of Jews murdered have no graves. Mr Eisenman argued successfully that attempts to commemorate the genocide with a conventional memorial would have been doomed to failure.

The monument, which cost €27.6 million (Dh136.5m) and was funded by the government, is now one of Berlin’s biggest tourist attractions. Well over eight million people have visited it since it opened, and some 2.3 million have been inside the museum.

“There is no other country in the world that perpetrated industrial murder on this scale,” said Lea Rosh, a journalist who initiated the campaign to build the memorial. “But there is no other nation in the world that has confronted its crimes so openly.”

Granite blocks at the Memorial construction site, 2002

When I saw the construction site in 2002, there were granite blocks piled up, ready to be placed in the Memorial, but as it turned out, these granite stones were not used, and instead the space was filled with cheap concrete blocks that have now turned into an even worse eyesore in the heart of Berlin.

View of the Memorial site before construction began, 2002

The Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, 2006

The two photos above show the before and after views of the site of the Memorial.  This location would have been perfect for a beautiful garden, instead of 5.5 acres of concrete, in honor of the “murdered Jews of Europe.”

The site on which the Memorial was built, covers an area the size of three soccer fields.  It is slightly larger than the site of the former  Dachau concentration camp.

Before 1945, this location was part of the Ministry Gardens; it was adjacent to the large complex of buildings which included Hitler’s Chancellery. After the war, it was part of the “death strip” along the Berlin wall. The memorial covers an area very close to the underground bunker where Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945. There is no access to Hitler’s bunker which still exists underground.

Teenagers at the Memorial on opening day

On the first day that the memorial was open, disrespectful teen-agers used it as a playground and the site was desecrated with a swastika, which was quickly removed. The architect of the Memorial, Peter Eisenman, said that he was not worried about the threat of graffiti as he thought this might even make the Memorial more interesting.

Some graffiti would make the Memorial more interesting.  What little graffiti I’ve seen in Germany was very artistic.  The Memorial needs something to make it interesting; as it stands now, it is the world’s worst eyesore.

4 Comments

  1. It is god awful. I don’t know what it is supposed to mean, tombstones? It just isn’t appropriate.

    Comment by paolosilv — June 20, 2010 @ 2:44 am

    • It is supposed to represent the victory of the Jews over the Germans. It is the ultimate example of “entartete Kunst,” which means degenerate art. According to Wikipedia, this was “a term adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany to describe virtually all modern art. Such art was banned on the grounds that it was un-German or Jewish Bolshevist in nature, and those identified as degenerate artists were subjected to sanctions.”

      By putting 5 acres of “entartete Kunst” in the heart of Berlin, the capitol of Germany, the Jews are proclaiming that they rule Germany, and don’t you forget it. Try saying the word “Jew” to a German person on the streets of Berlin, and you will see the abject fear in their eyes.

      Comment by furtherglory — June 20, 2010 @ 8:07 am

  2. Using cheap concrete blocks rather than the preferred and more durable granite blocks tells me that this memorial was only erected short term. Something tells me in a few years this memorial will be torn down and not replaced. Just like Aushwitz in Poland and plans to tear it down for redevelopment. I guess guilty people really dont want memorial reminders of their crimes.

    Comment by Brian Foley — May 25, 2010 @ 11:09 am

    • I think that you are right that “guilty people” don’t want memorial reminders of their crimes. Imagine the outrage if America had 5 acres of concrete blocks a few yards from the Capitol building in honor of the former slaves in America, or in honor of the Native Americans that we killed and took their land away from them. I’m not sure, but I think that there might be a memorial in Washington, DC to the Japanese-Americans who were interned in concentration camps in violation of the 4th Amendment to our Constitution. If the Germans ever do tear down this memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, they should ship the rubble to America so that we can make a 5 acre memorial to the innocent people that we have enslaved and murdered.

      Comment by furtherglory — May 25, 2010 @ 2:54 pm


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