Germany - Fears For Cracking Berlin Holocaust Memorial
Germany - Positioned around the corner from Hitler’s bunker, Berlin’s Holocaust memorial is the largest in the world. A total of 2711 tall, grey concrete columns invoke in visitors a sense of awe and disorientation - but there are fears that the ambitious experiment in memorial architecture is about to fall apart.
Barely five years old, the concrete is splitting. Deep cracks have been forming in two thirds of the slabs and the tabloid newspaper Bild has suggested that it could be the beginning of the end. “Can the Holocaust memorial be saved?” it asked recently.
It probably can - but, in the meantime, the German Government and the foundation that runs the memorial will have some nervous moments. The cracks have been caused by almost five months of snow and ice but have spread more quickly than expected.
A committee of experts should “help to clear up what caused the cracks and who is responsible for them, but also to work out an appropriate method of repairing the damage,” Uwe Neumaerker, the head of the foundation, said.
Designed by Peter Eisenman, the 19,000-square-metre field of pseudo-tombstones - the number corresponds to the pages of the Talmud - has been hailed as an astonishing piece of work. The stones are built on a sloping piece of land and the effect is of entering a labyrinth.
Critics say that no other country has put its guilt so openly on display: the field of stones adjoins the fuhrer’s bunker as well as the national symbol, the Brandenburg Gate. “The Holocaust is not an approporiate subject for a memorial,” said the conservative German novelist Martin Walser when the plans were announced. “Take all the towns in the world and check whether in any of these towns there is a memorial of national ignominy.”
It was built anyway, every stage dogged by controversy. At one point construction was interrupted because it was revealed that the anti-graffiti spray applied to the stones was made by the company Degussa, which was linked to the firm that had supplied Zyklon B, the poison gas used to kill Jews in Auschwitz.
Some engineers claim that the slabs were made of cheaper, non-reinforced concrete and that this has encouraged the cracking. Mr Eisenman had originally hoped to use natural stone but has been philosophical about the ageing of the slabs, saying that it was a natural process that would underline its organic strength and highlight its role as “a place of hope”.
Some Jewish activists have been involved in the project, but other Jews say that the memorial has nothing to do with them. Rather, it is an attempt by non-Jewish Germans to remember the Jews that were killed; an attempt to register their absence.
The aim is now to restore the stones to perfect condition before a five-year anniversary ceremony in May.
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