On a recent trip to Berlin, we walked through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, commonly known as the Holocaust Memorial. It’s a large square of space just south of Brandenberg Gate, next to the Tiergarten. The space contains over 2,700 concrete blocks, all with slightly different dimensions and angles. It’s very stark from above, as this Google Maps image shows, but from beyond and within, I found it tricky to find angles which gave a true reflection of the subtleties: the way the slants of light differ very slightly from block to block, and the fact that there is much undulation across the top of the blocks as well as on the ground, which slopes up and down in a wave pattern.
This image is cropped down into a square format from the original, creating more abstract forms. Each block has its own scratches which are clearly visible in bright sunlight and appear more by increasing contrast in post-production; the texture disrupts the uniformity of the rectangles. The abstract form also serves to isolate the blocks from the surrounding housing and office blocks. While I was there there it seemed like a good move to blur the boundaries between the memorial and the surroundings, since everything the eye could see was just a block of concrete, but without extra elevation in the form of a ladder/lift and a wider angle lens it’d be difficult to do justice to the idea.
The memorial has courted controversy since it was opened in 2005. I found it interesting from a design perspective, and the slow descent into the blocks which quickly tower over you certainly gives pause for thought. But as a memorial I felt it lacked meaning and relationship with action or people; as an abstract form, it is passive and requires the visitor to add their own context.