Monday, November 28, 2005

Berlin's Mahnmal an den ermordeten Jüden Europas

I went to Berlin for Thanksgiving, where I spent all sorts of time up in the Fernsehturm or walking around in Gropiusstadt (which is awfully green and pretty for a housing project, aka Plattenbau in German), in several contemporary art galleries. including the Hamburgerbahnhof where I bought a book of photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher and Kunstwerke, which had a rather forgettable 1970s gender/identity exhibit up by Katherina Sieverding but which I loved visiting because the building -- a former squat -- incorporated a silver slide which takes you breath-whippingly fast on a whirl outside and then back inside the building, a three-story ride in all, and which had a little window inserted into the top half of the slide for the portion of time that you were outside the building. It was a snowy day. There must have been a theme to my trip because after Thanksgiving, when we were recovering from all the turkey cooked in brandy and savory applesauce and whatnot, we also slid down the 8 story outdoor tobogganing slope in the middle of the skyscrapers of Potsdamer Platz, buzzed on (ahem, really strong) Apfelpunsch. That was on the way back from a tour of the pneumatic tube system in Berlin and its role as a precursor of the underground subway. Before watching two Brecht plays at the Berliner Ensemble, erected by Brecht himself in the DDRzeit from the rubble of bombed out post-world war two East Berlin. But what I took enough photographs with to share here is not the art, punk, squat, Turkish, high-design, or high-culture sides of Berlin that are so alive and exciting right now. I paid a visit to the Denkmal für die ermordeten Jüden Europas or Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe designed by Peter Eisenmann. It is probably the most effective and -- strangely -- beautiful memorials to anything I have ever seen, and it is an experience that interacts with the viewer rather than a visual object.

Above, you can see how close to the Reichstag and the Brandenburger Tor it is -- the heart of Berlin, while below the photographs give more of a sense of what it is like to walk inside the monument.

Near the edges the stellae are short and squat, like tomb-monuments, but as you walk in further the ground artificially slopes up and down, but mainly downwards, and you lose sight of the external world. The granite blocks off sound as well as sight, so that you can lose yourself in an interior world. Inside the stellae is unimaginably related to its appearance outside until you yourself have been in, and even so it is deceptive, surprising. Companions disappear quickly, navigation among the stellae becomes tricky, and you pick your way between the stones, catching and losing quick glimpses of other people.

The walls are unmarked, abstract. They both provide a metaphor for the experience of the Holocaust (desolation, being cut off from the outside world, being reduced to your own lone self, the inhumane rational abstract logic of the ideology that tried to radically transform the world according to its own dictates) and refuse to depict. The monument both encourages remembrance by cutting off the distractions of the outside world -- severing one's connection -- and rejects any sort of attempt at identification. The chasm between one's between one's own experience (or representations of experience that one sees) and the experience of these dead cannot be bridged.

The Mahnmal's website, also available in English, gives the most information about it, although there are also some interesting articles on the NPR website as well as reviews from FAZ and other German newspapers.

It's interesting how people use it, as well. There were no schoolgroups when I was there, but I counted four different couples playing hide-and-seek, including one pair who were well over 30 and engaging in shrieks and giggles. A teenager was jumping from stella to stella, and another man jumped on top of one to photograph the site. This last is against the rules which are engraved very, very inconspicuously in German only, near the area walkers are most likely to enter the site from. How do I feel about this, both rules and rule-breaking? Ambivalence...

And a last, happy photograph of Berlin as I remember it in my salad days, and maybe its too, with bright kindergarten-colored cranes sweeping the sky-line in almost every direction and energy, energy, nothing had to remain the same...


Blogger piu piu said...

hello! berlin and paris? very nice! two of my favorite cities. so how come u live in paris if u r all about german?

4:06 PM  
Blogger mmf! said...

well, i am doing dissertation research in paris for a year. but the interests are interconnected.

still having all kinds of culture shock... or clash... it seems to really *bother* Parisians that i am a foreigner; they don't forgive me for it. i think it has something to do with the fact that my french is *almost* totally correct, but just off, and therefore wrong, and therefore much more annoying than when my french was only okay. tell me more reasons why paris is a favorite city of yours? sometimes i forget??

ps. nice blog. i like nabokov short stories too, especially the one about the zoo. Shklovsky wrote a wonderful series of letters to a lover centering about the zoo too.

5:44 AM  

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