Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Jewish Memorial and Information Centre, 22nd February

On the first day of Berlin, after a very early start to catch a flight there, we had an easy walk round part of Berlin to get a first- hand feel of what Berlin is like and the culture. I saw the Reichstag as well as the Jewish Memorial, heres a link for more information: which shows the extraordinary scale of this memorial, which 'envisages around 2,700 concrete slabs (stelae), arranged in a grid pattern. They are 0.95 cm deep and 2.38 m wide and vary only in height. The stelae stand on gently and unevenly sloping ground covering 19,000 square metres. The public is able to enter and walk through the field from all four sides. They experience the wave-like form differently from each different position.'

The Jewish Memorial was a very emotional experience, the sheer density of the whole space it occupied was astonishing and the realisation of the amount of deaths this represented was something i will never forget. The wavy ground which you walked on whilst in this abyss of concrete stelae emphasised just how far this memorial stretched, the farther you wondered into it the taller the pillars seemed to become and the smaller and more powerless (like the feeling of a jew in a concentration camp) i felt. No doubt the designer Peter Eisenman (, internationally known architect based in New York) thought about how claustrophobic and weak its viewer's would feel whilst designing this. Having such a strong feeling of this myself when walking through, makes this an unforgettable experience.

"The enormity and scale of the horror of the Holocaust is such that any attempt to represent it by traditional means is inevitably inadequate ... Our memorial attempts to present a new idea of memory as distinct from nostalgia ... We can only know the past today through a manifestation in the present" (Peter Eisenman, 1998)

As if the Jewish Memorial wasn't enough on its own, i found the information centre underneath the monument touched me on a whole new level. Exploring the memorial first, did give you an understanding of the mass murders in the holocaust but it meant something far more after being round the information centre which was situated underneath the monument.
Information about individuals and people's stories who experienced/ survived/ died in the holocaust made the visit very personal, and the emotional involvement was very intense. There were different rooms composing the centre, each section all mirroring the stelae directly above, nearly all of them were completely dark inside or very dimly lit, which emphasised the sombre mood.

 In this room (above), lit up informational 'slabs' covered the floor, directly parallel to the concrete stelae above the ground, giving the impression of a coffin or an individual remembered as one of the thousands of slabs above ground. The slabs had extracts from letters and diaries of those dying in concentration camps, or missing relatives etc. translated into english, some of them containing graphic imaginings of the goings on of the time.
Below is a picture of what the ceiling looked like in some of these rooms, the inverted mould of the concrete slabs above ground parallel to how the information is shown in the centre. Seeing the inverted moulds made me feel very small/ claustrophobic/ powerless and almost as though i was one of the dead.

In other rooms as shown below, pillars came down from the ceiling showing the information and sharing the stories of whole families affected by the holocaust. In another room, the four walls had projections of victims names on them, and to see the same information being projected onto all four walls made me feel very overpowered. The parallel theme throughout this visit had massive impact on how you viewed the information in relation to the memorial above you. 

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