Berlin's Holocaust memorial opens to the public

12th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

12 May 2005, BERLIN - Berlin's controversial Holocaust memorial opened to the public on Thursday, meeting with wide interest and a mostly favourable response.

12 May 2005

BERLIN - Berlin's controversial Holocaust memorial opened to the public on Thursday, meeting with wide interest and a mostly favourable response.

The monument's undulating field of upright concrete blocks was full of curious locals mingling with tourists and school groups. Long queues formed outside the entrance to the underground information centre. Teenagers, showing flagrant disregard for the regulations posted at the edge of the site, ran laughing and shouting down the claustrophobic corridors between the columns.

The memorial has been dogged with controversy throughout the 17-year struggle to get it built - controversy which has only intensified since it opened. First, the head of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Paul Spiegel, condemned the memorial in his keynote speech at Tuesday's opening ceremony, saying it was "too abstract" and failed to "refer directly to the perpetrators".

Then on Wednesday the chairman of Berlin's Jewish community, Albert Meyer, warned of a possible Jewish boycott of the memorial should organiser Lea Rosh go ahead with plans to install a tooth from a Holocaust victim in one of the concrete pillars. Jewish leaders say this would violate Jewish religious law.

However visitors to the site on Thursday seemed broadly supportive of the new memorial, with most of them occupied with the question of how to interpret the abstract design.

"We're trying to figure out what the abstract forms represent," said Olaf Bollman from Toronto. "Are they tombstones or are they just something to let your imagination go wild? You have to find your own answer." The monument was "unique and effective", he added. 

Lousie Moss from Manchester was also trying to decipher the meaning of the pillars. "Is it a mausoleum or are they tombstones? When they're low they're like tombstones and when they're high they're like buildings, so what is it?"

Like many people, she found the design oppressive. "There's no sense of identity. You expect to see names but there are no names."

Victoria, an American living in London, agreed that personal interpretation was important. "I think everyone has a different feeling, although I don't know if that's what the artist wanted." She felt the blocks represented "the anonymity of all those people we don't know who died."

Some visitors agreed with Spiegel's view that the monument was too abstract. "I wondered where the connection between the monument and the reason behind it is", commented Thomas Zamzow from Berlin. "For me the question is, how would it be if you just came here and saw it and didn't know what it was?"

His friend Uta Zimmerman from Switzerland felt that the location itself was a statement. "I think it's good that the city gives so much space in the middle of the city for such a memorial."

Ethan from Toronto echoed fears many have that the monument will not receive the respect it deserves. "I think it's just going to turn into a playground. Everyone's going to be sitting on the blocks having picnics."

Andreas Wagner from Worms agreed, but felt that this was not necessarily a bad thing. "I heard laughter. The children want to play with it and climb on the blocks. I think that's good. That way it won't be forgotten."

Like many others, Ritchie Howden from Cambridge felt the design was deliberately disorienting. "You suddenly lose contact with the person you walked in with. You're crowded together, then suddenly they're not there and you don't know where they've gone to."

His wife Diana felt the way it was easy to lose people in the monument was meant to symbolise how family members got separated during the Holocaust. "That's how it would really have happened. It does make you think."

Ritchie felt the view of the city at the end of the narrow corridors represented hope. "You can see out in the end. That's the religious significance, that there is somewhere to go to. You can get out and meet again."

[Copyright Expatica News 2005]

Subject: German news

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