Berlin Holocaust memorial hit by new controversy

15th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

15 December 2004, BERLIN - The last concrete pillar was eased into place at the nearly complete site of Berlin's Holocaust memorial on Wednesday as a new controversy swirled over the problem-plagued project in the heart of the German capital. Dignitaries braved an icy wind as workmen put the final concrete pillar into its place among 2,700 other grey pillars at the site located only metres from Brandenburg Gate - and from the notorious bunker where Adolf Hitler lived out the final days of his Nazi regime.

15 December 2004

BERLIN - The last concrete pillar was eased into place at the nearly complete site of Berlin's Holocaust memorial on Wednesday as a new controversy swirled over the problem-plagued project in the heart of the German capital.

Dignitaries braved an icy wind as workmen put the final concrete pillar into its place among 2,700 other grey pillars at the site located only metres from Brandenburg Gate - and from the notorious bunker where Adolf Hitler lived out the final days of his Nazi regime.

Final touches will be put on the open-air memorial in coming months toward a formal opening next May during commemorative events for the 60th anniversary of the defeat of the Third Reich. The completion will come after 18 months of on-again, off-again work and continuing controversy.

The latest controversy involves plans by German Interior Minister Otto Schily to ban all protest marches within a wide radius of the memorial.

Announcing the planned ban, Schily said it would avert embarrassing demonstrations by neo-Nazi groups with resultant clashes with riot police.

He noted that neo-Nazi radicals staged an impromptu rally in front of the British embassy only a few steps away from the memorial site and subsequently marched through the arches of Brandenburg Gate with swastika emblems flying.

But in remarks at the memorial site on Wednesday, German Bundestag parliamentary Speaker Wolfgant Thierse rejected any ban on demonstrations in the heart of the capital, calling the idea "undemocratic and unnecessary".

Thierse, who chairs the committee overseeing construction of the memorial, said: "Naturally, stringent security must prevail to protect this memorial.

But a ban on peaceable assembly would go too far. And it would not necessarily prevent rightwing elements from gathering. In fact, it might be counter-productive in goading them into action."

Construction of the memorial began in April 2003 - several years later than planned - because securing and checking the site for unexploded munitions took longer than expected and there were last minute wrangles over project costs and the controversial design.

Also on hand for Wednesday's ceremonies was New York architect Peter Eisenman, whose design calls for 2,700 cement pillars over an area the size of two football fields.

Work on the Holocaust memorial was suspended for a time last year amid deep controversy over the role of a company which produced gas used in Nazi gas chambers.

That scandal involved Degussa AG, manufacturer of anti-graffiti protection for concrete pillars which are also partly made by a Degussa subsidiary.

Some committee members had demanded Degussa be barred from the project because Degussa manufactured Zyklon B used at Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.

That was despite the fact that Degussa is widely regarded as having been exemplary in coming clean about its Nazi past and paying compensation to former slave labourers.

Others who had sought to get rid of Degussa included a top mover of the project, broadcast journalist Lea Rosh, as well as the vice- president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Salomon Korn.

In contrast, the Jewish-American architect of the memorial, Peter Eisenman, was furious over the bid to kick out Degussa and eventually pursuaded the committee to resume construction with Degussa involvement.

Eisenman himself was the centre of controversy earlier this year over an off-hand remark made at a meeting of the committee overseeing the project.

When the Degussa issue was revived at a committee meeting in March, the New York architect said in exasperation that his Jewish dentist in Manhattan had told him Degussa was also a major supplier of dental filling materials.

Speaking in English through a German interpreter, Eisenman said it would breaching a construction contract with Degussa would be as ridiculous as ripping out millions of people's dental fillings around the world.

The translated remark was interpreted as "an anti-Semitic jibe" and prompted several members of the committee to stalk out of the meeting, demanding Eisenman be fired as chief architect.

Eisenman, who describes himself as a non-practising American Jew unfamiliar with German-Jewish sensibilities, apologised for any misunderstanding that his comment might have caused, and he was permitted to remain on the job.

DPA

Subject: German news 

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