At first it seemed inappropriate, even incorrect, that we hurriedly fit in a visit to the holocaust memorial in Berlin on our way to lunch. Not just any lunch, but one in an elegant restaurant set in a large, windowed room atop the Reichstag, the recently restored home of the German Parliament. While the contrast between our casual tourists’ indulgence and the suffering of those memorialized was obvious, my own discomfort had primarily to do with rushing through an experience which deserved to be given more time. I wanted to look around; and possibly to linger.
The memorial, called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is the only one in Germany that commemorates solely the Jewish dead. It was designed by the American architect Peter Eisenman and opened in 2005. Not surprisingly, every detail of its conception and construction unleashed discord, and dozens of controversies had somehow to be addressed ahead of the bulldozers. Some were moral and artistic: How, for instance, does the city of the perpetrators dare (how dare anyone?) even try to create a monument that claims to speak to something as massive, dumbfounding, and agonizing as these murders? (Unstated but key: murders which, as a Berliner, your parents and grandparents may have sanctioned, or even committed.) Then again, why commemorate only the Jews when so many others were also murdered?
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