11 May 2005

New monument, Berlin

The national Holocaust monument opened officially today in the German capital, after years of wrangling. The Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe is an undulating field of 2,700 stone slabs, near the Brandenburg Gate, a site which used to be a no man's land between East and West and is now at the heart of the new Berlin. The monument, designed by US architect Peter Eisenman, attempts to evoke the persecution and murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis. Bundestagspräsident Wolfgang Thierse said, in his speech at the opening, that the monument "ist eine bauliche Symbolisierung für die Unfasslichkeit des Verbrechens. Es ermöglicht eine sinnlich-emotionale Vorstellung von Vereinsamung, Bedrängnis, Bedrohung" ["symbolises architecturally the unimaginable crime. It conveys an emotional idea of being alone, oppressed and threatened"]. But the Mahnmal is not there to inform; it is an emotive piece of art; it cannot be unambiguous. (And this was one of the arguments against the monument.) Now that the work has been erected, it no longer matters what was intended, but what we make of it.