The Berlin Holocaust Memorial is odd in many ways, one being its official name: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. From the start, the memorial generated controversy even over this name. Who murdered the Jews? Is this about the Holocaust of WWII or some earlier pogrom? It’s really not clear. Then there is the design of the memorial. It’s made of plain cement blocks, or stelae, laid out in neat rows on undulating ground.
Maybe the number of stelae is significant? There are 2,711. I couldn’t find any reason for this chosen number. The architect, Eisenman, wrote that the stelae are designed to produce a confusing place, where order results in chaos and loss. You can indeed lose the people you came with as you all wander among the blocks, walking along the irregular ground.
Here’s how: Include a tour of the almost-hidden underground Information Center. It’s at the far end of the memorial, away from the street side where you enter. You almost have to know it’s there and search for it. The day we visited, a short line above ground alerted us to the location of the Information Center. After going through security, you enter a stunning, moving museum dedicated to the Jews who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis during WWII.
This small museum tells the stories of people. At the entrance, six large portraits of lost Jews hang, larger than life. These represent the six million Jews murdered in the WWII era. One portrait is of Zdenek Konas, a boy age 11 deported from Prague and sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp, then to Auschwitz. This theme of individuals affected by the war carries throughout the museum.
It’s said that Eisenman opposed the inclusion of the underground museum. But this is the heart of the memorial because this is where you can connect with the faces, the names, the magnitude of tragedy registered in one young child.
The Berlin Holocaust Memorial is located just steps from the Brandenburg Gate, in the shadow of the Reichstag, across the street from the Tiergarten. It’s just a short distance from the site of Hitler’s bunker. In other words, it’s in the center of Berlin. I would certainly include this in any itinerary for Berlin; just be sure to find your way to the Information Center to explore the meaning of this unusual place.
If you go:
The Information Center is open every day except Monday, 10:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is open to the street and always accessible.
These are both free of charge.