Jewish Memorial a Living Part of Berlin Landscape

Reuters
Reuters
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Reuters
Reuters

BERLIN - Peter Eisenman, the architect behind Berlin's Holocaust memorial, expects his work to become a living part of the German capital's landscape - an open place where children play and people stop for lunch.

"People will do with it what they will," Eisenman told Reuters by telephone from his New York office. "We didn't want to rope it off. We didn't want it not to be part of the city."

After 17 years of fierce debate, Germany's memorial to the 6 million Jewish victims of Nazi terror is set to open on May 10.

Situated just south of the Brandenburg Gate and opposite a plot of land where a new U.S. embassy is under construction, the vast memorial consists of 2,711 dark gray concrete pillars that form a tight grid pattern through which visitors can wander.

The rectangular pillars, which resemble grave stones, rise to a height of 4.7 meters as visitors descend on sloping ground into the center of the memorial. The size of a large city block, it will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and be accessible from all four sides.

"I think kids will play tag. I think people will eat their lunch on the pillars. I'm sure skateboarders will use it. People will dance on the top of the pillars. All kinds of unexpected things are going to happen," Eisenman said.

Despite the risk of vandalism, officials say security at the memorial will be kept to a minimum. Four inconspicuous signs on each side of the site urge visitors to treat it with respect.

But ultimately it will be up to Berliners and those who visit the memorial to protect it. Eisenman, an American born in 1932 to nonpracticing Jewish parents, intended it that way.

"There will be people who attempt to deface it but that's an expression of the people," he said.

As visitors walk toward the center of the memorial, the concrete blocks grow more imposing, the sounds of the street become muffled and the ground slopes unevenly.

The design is intended to create the same feelings of isolation and disorientation experienced by Jewish victims of the Nazis, encouraging people to talk about the horrible chapter in German history.

"I would like to think it doesn't close off discussion but opens discussion, on issues of anti-Semitism, the Nazi regime and the role of the German people. I see it as a catalyst because of feelings it generates," said Eisenman, whose previous works include the Wexner Center for the Visual Arts in Columbus, Ohio, and the City of Culture in Galicia, Spain.

"A lot of people, especially in Jewish communities, asked what it has to do with the Holocaust. There are no stars, no names. But we didn't want that. A little kid will go in and play hide and seek until he gets lost and starts to scream. You can't stop anyone from doing anything and that was part of the message."

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