Thursday, November 23, 2006

Memorial Snippets

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in the middle of Berlin, has been generating debate since it was suggested in 1990. Questions such as whether such a huge memorial was necessary or desirable, futile or useful, kitschy or earnest, came up immediately, and the specific Memorial that's taken shape after a design by Peter Eisenman also throws up huge question marks. PBS has a great website that introduces the important issues at stake.

Today I participated in a long and interesting discussion about the Memorial with a room of twenty-something students in the Cultural Science [Kulturwissenschaft] department of the Humboldt University and their comments make an interesting confetti of assertions. The motivating query was whether the monument is actually "disturbing," given its location in the heart of Berlin's touristic sight-seeing network:

"It doesn't stand out from the city or disrupt the center in any way [despite what may have been intended]. It fits perfectly. You visit Berlin, you visit the Reichstag, you walk for a minute and visit the Memorial and experience a little remembrance. The children play, the parents picnic. Yep, perfect addition to the city center."

"That may be problematic, but it's not totally wrong. The Memorial fits into the city in a certain way that the event fits into German history."

"Eisenman wanted this openness anyway."

"It's not a memorial for the Jews but rather for the Germans. It's from Germans, for Germans."

"I think it's effective. You go in the middle and the traffic noise fades and you're down in the middle of these tall stele and you have a space to think a little. In this sense, the earlier design, with taller blocks and greater enclosure, would have been even more effective."

"It's about getting the most Germans possible to reflect. That's why it's in the center, and it's good that way."

"I don't know whether or not you can control how it affects people. It's a total issue of personal taste."

"Let's remember this is a Mahnmal, not a Denkmal. It's goal is to mahnen, to honor the victims, not necessarily to make you think, to make you denken."

"As a non-German, it's not really my monument. Of course when I have visitors we go however."

"Well you know there's the question of authenticity; it's just there in the middle of the city. No one would picnic at Auschwitz."

"Thirty seconds of engaging oneself in the theme is better than no time. At least you have a starting point then."

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