Pillar Perspectives – Holocaust Memorial Berlin

Berlin Jewish Memorial photos

Catching my lens...

I walked deep into the middle and with each uneven step I seemed to descend from where I had started at street level. I could no longer see the horizon; all I could see were gray stones surrounding me, towering over me. Under my feet was a grid pattern which seemed to simulate the larger grid I was lost in. I looked up to the sky for some orientation, but the indistinct, overcast sky provided no texture for me. From the screams and laughter in the distance I knew I wasn’t alone, but for that moment I felt alone, completely and utterly alone.

Worldviews are often muddled – we each have our own perspective based on our experiences. Much like the varied ways we look at the world, the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is also a kaleidoscope of views and opinions. It has been a center of controversy in Berlin since it’s opening in 2005. Memorials are something that is seldom agreed upon – have you ever seen or heard of a memorial that everyone agreed upon? One where everyone stood there and said, “That’s an absolute perfect depiction of the pain and loss each person felt.” No, because pain and loss is personal – very personal. The American born architect, Peter Eisenman, had a vision and continued forward with it despite the controversies – and his vision was far from straightforward. And it’s the abstractness of the site that tends to throw people – however for me, it’s what I loved about the site.

For some, the memorial and the pillars evoke no correlation to the murdered Jews of WWII – there are no names, plaques, or religious markings at all on the site. However if you free your mind you can see and feel all sorts of meaning and linking to the Jewish history.  Novelist Sara Quigley wrote,

“Standing on an uneven piece of land, the stelae almost fall into the centre of the site, rising up again towards the edge, forming a myriad of uneven stone corridors. Walking down one of these passages is disorientating, and scary; you can’t see who is approaching you, nor who is behind. The tilting ground and lack of vision offers some small idea of the Jewish experience from WWII: your past snatched away, your future insecure, little hope of escape.”

From the first moment I saw pictures of the memorial in a magazine back in 2005, it has always looked like modern, scattered graves to me. It evokes a feeling of simple yet chaotic. The Landscape of 2,711 pillars called stelae are open 24 hours a day but are closely guarded by security personnel who have one rule – you cannot sit, stand, or climb on the stelae. However running, laughing, playing are all ok. This is what surprised me the most about seeing the memorial in person – the magazine photo was enough to get me to travel to Berlin to see it, but the life and noise coming from the memorial can only be experienced in person. And this is what makes the memorial unique to me. I’ve never ever been to a memorial that is so full of laughter and joy.

As I walked through the undulating maze of pillars I heard hushed tones of serious talking mixed with the sounds of footsteps running around me accompanied with laughter and often screams of excitement. The kids looked at the memorial as a huge playground, a maze to get lost in and run around. They would hide around pillars and scare their friends or challenge their parents to find them. Some feel that the memorial should be a serious place, a place where laughter and joy is not allowed, but I think the beauty of the memorial is this diversity of experience. As I watched the children running around enjoying themselves it reminded me that this generation has not felt the pain that their grandparents felt – they don’t have memories of the war – reminding me that the only for sure thing in life is that time marches on. After all, memorials are for remembering, but they are also for living.

 

jewish memorial berlin

holocaust memorial photography

holocaust memorial photography

 

holocaust memorial photography

Jewish memorial photography

Jewish memorial photography

Jewish memorial photography

Jewish memorial photography

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More Information:

Website:  www.stiftung-denkmal.de/en/home.html
Walking tours are available, however it’s nice to just wander through the maze.
It is located one block south of the Brandenburg Gate, in the Friedrichstadt neighborhood.
Visitors center (located underneath the memorial) is free but lines can be long.  Apr-Sept: Tue-Sun, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (last admission 7.15 p.m.) Oct-Mar: Tue-Sun, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. (last admission 6.15 p.m.); Closing days 1 Jan., 12 to 26 Nov., 24 to 26 Dec.; free of charge; Field of Stelae: accessible 24h a day

More information on the free museum below the memorial via Oh-Berlin.com- The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Your Comments

9 Comments so far

  1. The contrast between the dark moodiness of your photos and your description of what it felt like to be there is remarkable. Berlin is high on my list of places to visit, and before this post I probably would have skipped the memorial. No longer. Thanks.

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks! And I’m happy that you have decided to go see it. I found it to be a lovely experience. Just go get lost in the middle and watch how others enjoy or memorialize the space. Let me know what you think of it!

  2. Kristi says:

    I LOVE the first picture. I’m not sure if that person is someone you know or if you caught that person, but it’s stylically the best picture of the best. I can’t place why. The contrast of colors, of pillars, of innocence, of so much.

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks Kristi! No, I didn’t know the boy – I just caught him coming around a corner. That’s one of the cool things about the memorial – you never know what is coming around the corner and sometimes you get pleasant surprises. I loved photographing the memorial – especially with my wide angle lens – it was a fun challenge to try to capture it all!

  3. Emily says:

    Wonderful photos. That monument is a very disorienting place–it’s kind of exhilarating to walk into it and then after a few minutes you’re desperate to get out. I love how every post you’ve written over the last few months has gotten more and more thoughtful. This is one of my favorite blogs!

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks so much Emily! I have been traveling so much these past 4 months and I have so many things yet to share, my mind feels like it’s going to explode with stories most days!

  4. Mark H says:

    Surely one of the world’s most moving memorials – so different yet so poignantly capturing one of world history’s lowest points

    • Sherry says:

      That’s how I felt about Berlin as a whole – I thought they did a wonderful job of sharing the history in a very respectful and thoughtful way.

  5. Franca says:

    This post and photos brought back some lovely memories…

    Thanks and really well done for the photography work!

    ITALIAN/Franca


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