Second Day in Berlin: Holocaust Memorial and McDonald’s

March 16, 2011

When approaching from behind, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe does not look impressive. Small slabs of concrete. Still. Emotionless. Then, you walk through it, down the slightly sloping passages until you are alone, surrounded on everyside by the suddenly massive structures. It comes on slowly.

With virtually no markings or engravings, the monument offers very little explanation to the millions of visitors who have come to experience first hand the eerie place since the site was constructed in 2004. That is by design. Architect Peter Eisenman’s idea  was intentionally supposed to be left open for interpretation. As Ben Schraffer who works at the Daily Visitor Service at the monument put it, “the memorial is free of symbolism. What could possibily symbolize the Holocaust? Nothing.”

But if the memorial is truly free to interpretation, then I feel I must disagree with Mr. Schaffer. I think the site is filled with symbolism. Here’s my take: At first glance, the monument is nothing, until you find yourself in the middle of all the pillars and columns, feeling their shadows engulf you. At first, no one wanted to acknowledge the atrocities happening throughout Europe, until we were in so far that we couldn’t help but feel its full, ugly force.

If the memorial itself is cold and impersonable, then the visitor center is designed in reverse. Acting as a mini museum, the center is located beneath the memorial, and in the ceiling you can see indentations where the pillars above stand. Some sections have large pillars coming down from above, without hitting the ground. Most rooms only offer light from small backlit panes of glass with texts of information. It might feel flashy if the interesting design choices weren’t so subtle, and the information on display not so tragic and dark. Visitors using an audioguide can see and hear the very grim personal stories of Jews who lost their lives during the Holocaust. Truly an emotional and chilling experience.

On a much, much lighter note, for lunch I took an excursion to McDonald’s, a restaurant I detest and yet strangely have found myself at twice now in the last two days (walking mile after mile will make you crave just about anything.) I was delighted to see a easy order kiosk were you select what you’d like to eat, pay with credit card and  instant food! Perfect for the traveler who no sprechen sie deutsch. Of course, it hardly matters considering the entire menu is pretty much in english anyway, and it didn’t actually save me any trouble when my number was read off in German and everyone stared at me as I painfully slowly realized my food was ready. I really should have cracked open my handy dandy German phrase book once or twice before the trip. Live and learn.

One Response to Second Day in Berlin: Holocaust Memorial and McDonald’s

  1. Rhonda
    March 16, 2011 at 1:00 am

    I like your take on the symbolism. I was thinking along the same lines as you described walking slowing through the passages until you find yourself surrounded by the massive slabs. It sounds like a solemn, even chilling experience. Engulfed, swallowed up by the evil – those who suffered in the camps must have felt that and from what I’ve read about WWII – the rest of the world was definitely slow to acknowledge the atrocities.
    Seems like a fitting memorial and I had not ever heard of it before. Thanks for the blog.