Germany unveils 'on the edge' Holocaust memorial
Germany unveiled a haunting new memorial in the heart of Berlin on Tuesday that aims, through its controversial abstract design, to preserve the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of Nazi terror.
Speaking to an emotional audience that included Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Holocaust survivors, the head of the German parliament said the fierce debate that has surrounded the project since its start 17 years ago was bound to continue.
But he called the wrangling understandable given the historical weight of a project that has forced Germans into tough decisions about how to remember the darkest chapter in their history.
"It is an expression of the difficulty in finding an artistic form that can convey the incomprehensible, monstrous Nazi crime of genocide against Europe's Jews."
Designed by U.S. architect Peter Eisenman, the memorial consists of 2,711 gray gravestone-like slabs of varying height that form a tight grid pattern through which visitors can wander. It sits on a vast plot of land between the Brandenburg Gate and the buried remains of Adolf Hitler's bunker.
Critics have argued that the design is too abstract and attacked the decision to put the memorial in such a prominent location. Others have criticized it for honoring the Jews and not other victims of Nazi terror.
Lea Rosh, a journalist who led the campaign for a memorial, estimates about half of Germans oppose the result.
Still, supporters see it is a powerful symbol of Germany's readiness to face up to its past and preserve the memory of Nazi crimes for future generations.
"You can argue with how they went about it, but no other country has erected a monument to its misdeeds. It's courageous," said Michael Cullen, a Berlin-based U.S. architectural historian who has written extensively about it.
From a distance, the site looks like a dark, placid ocean. As visitors descend on uneven, sloping ground into the memorial, street noise fades. The unmarked concrete blocks, tilted at odd angles, rise around them to heights of up to 4.7 meters (15 feet).
The experience is intended to create feelings of unease and loneliness, encouraging discussion and reflection on the plight of the Jewish victims of the Third Reich.
An underground information center, added to the original plan at the request of the German government, complements the field of pillars with personal stories of individual Jews across Europe that were killed by the Nazis.
Paul Spiegel, president of the Central Council of the Jews in Germany, called the memorial an important, necessary signal of the country's determination to remember its crimes.
But he said the "real" places of memory were the concentrations camps and other sites where Jews were killed.
"It would be regrettable, scandalous if these sites were to pay a price because of the erection of this memorial," he told the audience. "An abstract memorial cannot take the place of those locations where the crimes were committed."