The city of memorials: take two

(Half of this post was written in 2016, I ran out of steam clearly…but I figured I’d not let the work go to waste and finish of this post now! :))

This is Berlin, Take Two. I’ve included photos and videos below of four Holocaust memorials. Over the last two months I have recognised a real distinction between government sponsored and developed memorials and community driven memorials. Take One included a few examples of community or individual driven memorials (such as the Stumbling Stones). This post isn’t going to pit one type over the other, but I found that these four, all ‘national’ or government sponsored memorials, compliment each other.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

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This memorial is made up of 2,711 concrete stelae designed by Peter Eisenmann and Buro Happold. The stelae, pictured above, cover a sloped space of approximately 19,000 square metres.

The thing I like most about this memorial is that you have to go into it to really experience it. As memorials move away from simpler forms, such as plaques etc, they become more like pieces of art. So, in a way, what you take away from them is in the eye of the beholder. For me, the experience of being in the maze of stelae was one of disorientation. Sometimes you’re walking up, then down, sometimes you can see around you, other times the stelae tower over you. It was cooler than outside and damp. When you did see other people walk past it was only fleeting or you might turn a corner and crash right into someone!

While we can never truly understand what people experienced during Holocaust, the memorial certainly made me think about what it would have felt like to live during times when a ruling party wanted you dead just because of your religion, ethnicity or religion. Sobering considering things happening in the world at the moment.

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A recurring issue around permanent memorials in each country I have visited is behaviour at memorials. What is appropriate behaviour at memorial sites? This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few weeks, so the whole Pokemon thing has been fascinating to this memorial nerd! In the photo above you can see a tourist standing on one of the stelae, I saw a lot of this and a lot of selfie taking.
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Memorials require maintenance. This photo shows a large crack in one of the concrete stelae. There were also a number that were cordoned off for repair. Often the process of memorial is largely about getting them ‘done’ and less about what may happen into the future and how that may make people feel.

Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism

See the comments in Take One, for some nerding out over this memorial between Kate Brady and myself.

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I had to go on bit of an adventure to find this guy because of the Euros football tournament setup but it was worth it. It’s not actually that hard to find (a surprising number of memorials are actually really hard to find) but some strategically placed fences made it more difficult than usual
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It’s not that exciting from the outside, but doesn’t that little black square entice you? Don’t you just want to get closer and stick your head in there and have a look? You’ll be rewarded. A video plays on loop inside the structure. Of what? I could tell you, but go see for yourself!

Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism

I found the names of each of the Holocaust memorials in Berlin really interesting. The names alone make a statement. Almost all memorials are political in nature but not all make purposeful political statements in the naming of the memorial. In Berlin, this is reflective of the broader attitude of frankly and openly discussing and linking the political ideologies of the national socialist movement and Nazism to causing and perpetrating of the Holocaust. From psychosocial and memorial perspectives, this link, while confronting for memorial visitors, is crucial in community healing.

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Despite being on the edge of the Tiergarten next to a busy road this memorial is so peaceful and quiet.

Neue Wache: The Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Victims of Tyranny and War

Neue Wache, the building that houses this memorial was originally built as a guardhouse for the crown prince of Prussia (what is now Germany). Since 1931, the Neue Wache has housed several different memorials, reflecting the political turmoil in Berlin during this time. After 1931 it was the Memorial to Those Who Fell in the World War. This memorial and the building suffered heavy damage during WWII. The Communists then rebuilt Neue Wache and from 1960 it served as the Memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism. In 1969, the remains of an Unknown Soldier and Unknown Nazi concentration camp victim were buried at Neue Wache. The current memorial was rededicated, to include the permanent installation shown in the video, in 1993.

In essence, Neue Wache, in its current incarnation, is a memorial to hundred of thousands, but likely millions, of unnamed victims of war.

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One objective of my Fellowship was to collate lots of ‘content’ – photographs, video, audio, quotes etc – to use in the later development of resources in relation to memorial development in Australia. So I visited lots of memorials to document them in different ways. I didn’t really expect to see so many tourists also taking the same photos as me! Memorials do become tourist attractions in some cases. This will have to be a consideration for some communities after certain types of disaster events.

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