The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was the first Holocaust remembrance site I had ever visited. The site included a graveyard-like area of more than a thousand off-kilter blocks of concrete and a visiting center with immersive text and images set up similar to a museum. On the walking tour I did in Prague, the guide said that the design of this memorial was partially inspired by the Jewish cemetery in Prague, where many Jewish people were buried in a small area and the gravestones were off-kilter and crowded together. Many resources online say that the grid of semi-tilted concrete blocks that range from 0.2 m to 5 m in height are meant to be disorienting and instill the sense of loss that was felt by the Jews and other victims during the war. I slowly walked through the sea of blocks and found that the most intense feelings I got was when I walked from the edge of the array towards the middle, as the ground slopes down and the concrete blocks grow higher. It felt as if I was being swallowed into a grave where I could still see the outside world through the grid of blocks but couldn’t escape.
Like with many memorials, controversy and disagreement are abundant with the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. One of the major critiques is the lack of names, locations, and dates that would represent individuals and the horrors they faced. Some say that the abstraction of the work is a better representation of the human emotion tied to the Holocaust. The underground visitors’ center features presentations chronicling names, dates, and stories. This aspect of the memorial differs from both the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC, and the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, where names of victims are inscribed directly on the monument. Another controversy arose during construction, when it was discovered that two of the companies involved had provided services for the Nazis during WWII. Construction ceased during this time but then decisions were made to move forward with the same companies. The memorial and visitors’ center cannot be missed if making a trip to Berlin.
A block away from the Holocaust Memorial lies the Brandenburg Gate, another big tourist attraction in Berlin. I walked by the gate on two different occasions, one time in the morning when it was quite empty of people. The sun was shining behind the gate and I got a great photo of the gate silhouetted in front of the sun. The Brandenburg Gate marked the entrance to one of the main streets in Berlin. On that day they were setting up for the Deutsch-Französisches (German-French) Fest that was taking place later that day. I found myself back at the fair around noon where families and other people were enjoying the food and activities set up under different tents near the gate.
After I finished my sightseeing agenda on this beautiful Saturday in Berlin, I rode the U-bahn and S-bahn to Tempelhof Park, a discontinued airstrip turned into a park. Although I figured it was going to be big, similar to my thoughts on Berlin in general. I arrived at the park, scanned the horizon, and couldn’t believe the size of it. The park is approximately 2 km in diameter and is made up of large swaths of both grass and asphalt. Small shacks rent out segways, scooters, pedal cars, and other small electric and pedal powered vehicles for children. Rollerbladers, bikers, and long boarders enjoy the long, flat expanses of pavement while picnickers, barbecuers, loungers, families, and couples are uniformly spread out on the grass. As you may have guessed, I was there to find a soccer game. As far as I could see with the naked eye, there was only one soccer game going on and it was kids from a big family event playing tournament style. My request to join was sadly rejected. Fortunately, the next day brought better news. I juggled my mini soccer ball for a few minutes and then decided to do a body weight workout for about 25 minutes, which I am still sore from two days later.
Tune in for my next post where I will cover the famous Reichstag building, a unique experience at another local park and market. I’ll also include an analysis of window styles in Berlin.