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  • Tommaso Speccher

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

By Marco Pavan

One of the themes that reverberate daily in the life of the city, for Berliners and tourists alike, is the theme of Memory. "To remember"; "To remember in order not to forget"; "To remember in order to build the present": these are some of the statements one often hears from guides, teachers or ordinary visitors strolling the streets of the city centre.

The map of Berlin is plastered with places, traces and ruins of a past that always seems to be watching and begging to be heard, understood, discussed. Among all these places, there is one that is distinctly and deliberately more incisive than others: the Memorial for the Victims of the Holocaust, designed by American architect Peter Eisenman.

The Memorial consists of an imposing mass of 2711 concrete steles arranged in orderly rows at regular intervals, accessible and crossable from all sides: this stylistic choice is not only the fruit of the architectural language of the deconstructivist Eisenman, but also the reflection of an epochal and alienating difficulty in having to confront the Holocaust and the extermination of the Jewish populations of Europe, reproduced in the extraordinary experience of crossing the Memorial itself.

As early as the mid-1980s, still amid the so-called 'Kohl Era', discussions had already begun on the desirability of establishing a place to serve as a warning and reminder of the disasters wrought by the Nazi dictatorship. The Eisenamn project is thus the result of almost two decades of political and social debate around this issue.

The Memorial, so imposing in the centre of the city, and supported by a Learning Centre that absolutely must be visited in its underground part, has a double function: on one hand, it places the general and suffocating sense of disorientation at the centre of the political life of the German capital; on the other hand, it provokes a form of self-analysis and reflection regarding the destructive, as well as symbolic, magnitude of the Holocaust for our world today.

This dual function of the Memorial, of prompting one to remember and at the same time instilling a question mark in the beholder with respect to the present time, is the core of Eisenman's installation and makes it something absolutely new in the landscape of European memorialisation today.


One often hears that the number of the stems is random and has no definite meaning but actually,  2711 are the pages of the Babylonian Talmud and, although Eisenman never explicitly referred to it, it is rather difficult to think that this might be purely random!


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