American architect Peter Eisenman stirred controversy when he unveiled plans for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Critics protested that the memorial in Berlin, Germany was too abstract and did not present historical information about the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Other people said that the memorial resembled a vast field of nameless tombstones that symbolically captured the horror of the Nazi death camps. Fault-finders decried that the stones were too theoretical and philosophical. Because they lack an immediate connection with common people, the Holocaust Memorial's intellectual intent may be lost, resulting in a disconnect. Would people ever treat the slabs as objects in a playground? People who praised the memorial said that the stones would become a central part of Berlin's identity.
Since its opening in 2005, this Holocaust Memorial Berlin has stirred controversy. Today we can take a closer look back in time.
A Memorial Without NamesSean Gallup/Getty Images
Peter Eisenman's Holocaust Memorial is constructed of massive stone blocks arranged on a 19,000 square meter (204,440 square foot) plot of land between East and West Berlin. The 2,711 rectangular concrete slabs placed on a sloping stretch of land have similar lengths and widths, but various heights.
Eisenman refers to the slabs as the plural stelae (pronounced STEE-LEE). An individual slab is a stele (pronounced STEEL or STEE-LEE) or known by the Latin word stela (pronounced STEEL-LAH).
The use of the stele is an ancient architectural tool to honor the dead. The stone marker, to a smaller extent, is used even today. Ancient stelae often have inscriptions; architect Eisenman chose not to inscribe the stelae of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.
Undulating StonesJuergen Stumpe/Getty Images
Each stele or stone slab is sized and arranged in such a way that the field of stelae seems to undulate with the sloping land.
Architect Peter Eisenman designed the Berlin Holocaust Memorial without plaques, inscriptions, or religious symbols. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is without names, yet the strength of the design is in its mass of anonymity. The solid rectangular stones have been compared to tombstones and coffins.
This memorial is unlike American memorials such as the Vietnam Veterans Wall in Washington, DC or the National 9/11 Memorial in New York City, which incorporate victims' names within their design.
Pathways through the Berlin Holocaust MemorialHeather Elton/Getty Images
After the slabs were in place, the cobblestone pathways were added. Visitors to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe can follow a labyrinth of pathways between the massive stone slabs. Architect Eisenman explained that he wanted visitors to feel the loss and disorientation that Jews felt during the Holocaust.
Each Stone a Unique TributeSean Gallup/Getty Images
Each stone slab is a unique shape and size, put in place by the architect's design. In so doing, architect Peter Eisenman points out the uniqueness and the sameness of the people who were murdered at the time of the Holocaust, also known as Shoah.
The site lies between East and West Berlin, within sight of the Reichstag Dome designed by British architect Norman Foster.
Anti-Vandalism at the Holocaust MemorialDavid Bank/Getty Images
All of the stone slabs at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial have been coated with a special solution to prevent graffiti. Authorities hoped that this would prevent neo-Nazi white supremacist and anti-semitic vandalism.
"I was against the graffiti coating from the start," architect Peter Eisenman told Spiegel Online. "If a swastika is painted on it, it is a reflection of how people feel… What can I say? It's not a sacred place."
Beneath the Berlin Holocaust MemorialCarsten Koall/Getty Images
Many people felt that the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe should include inscriptions, artifacts, and historical information. To meet that need, architect Eisenman designed a visitor's information center beneath the Memorial's stones. A series of rooms covering thousands of square feet memorializes individual victims with names and biographies. The spaces are named Room of Dimensions, the Room of Families, the Room of Names, and the Room of Sites.
The architect, Peter Eisenman, was against the information center. "The world is too full of information and here is a place without information. That is what I wanted," he told Spiegel Online. "But as an architect you win some and you lose some."
Open to the WorldSean Gallup/Getty Images
Peter Eisenman's controversial plans were approved in 1999, and construction began in 2003. The Memorial opened to the public on May 12, 2005, but by 2007 cracks appeared on some of the stele. More criticism.
The site of the Memorial is not a space where physical genocide took place - extermination camps were located in more rural areas. Being situated in the heart of Berlin, however, gives a public face to the remembered atrocities of a nation and continues to carry its somber message to the world.
It remains high on the list of venues experienced by visiting dignitaries - including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2010, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama in 2013, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in 2015, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Ivanka Trump all visited at different times in 2017.
About Peter Eisenman, the ArchitectSean Gallup/Getty Images
Peter Eisenman (born: August 11, 1932, in Newark, New Jersey) won the competition to design the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (2005). Educated at Cornell University (B.Arch. 1955), Columbia University (M.Arch. 1959), and the University of Cambridge in England (M.A. and Ph.D. 1960-1963), Eisenman was best known as a teacher and a theorist. He headed an informal group of five New York architects who wanted to establish a rigorous theory of architecture-independent of context. Called the New York Five, they were featured in a controversial 1967 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and in a later book titled Five Architects. In addition to Peter Eisenman, the New York Five included Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves. John Hejduk, and Richard Meier.
Eisenman's first major public building was Ohio's Wexner Center for the Arts (1989). Designed with architect Richard Trott, the Wexner Center is a complex of grids and a collision of textures. Other projects in Ohio include the Greater Columbus Convention Center (1993) and the Aronoff Center for Design and Art (1996) in Cincinnati.
Since then, Eisenman has stirred controversy with buildings that appear disconnected from surrounding structures and historical context. Often called a Deconstructionist and a Postmodern theorist, Eisenman's writings and designs represent an effort to liberate form from meaning. Yet, while avoiding external references, Peter Eisenman's buildings may be called Structuralist in that they search for relationships within the building elements.
In addition to the 2005 Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Eisenman has been designing the City of Culture of Galicia in Santiago de Compostela, Spain beginning in 1999. In the United States, he may be best known to the public for designing the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona - the 2006 sports venue that can roll out the turf into the bright sunlight and rain. Really, the field rolls from inside to outside. Eisenman doesn't balk at difficult designs.
- SPIEGEL Interview with Holocaust Monument Architect Peter Eisenman, Spiegel Online, May 09, 2005 accessed August 3, 2015
- A place of information, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, visitBerlin, //www.visitberlin.de/en/memorial-murdered-jews-europe accessed March 23, 2018
- Merrill, S. and Schmidt, L (eds.) (2010) A Reader in Uncomfortable Heritage and Dark Tourism, Cottbus: BTU Cottbus, PDF at //www-docs.tu-cottbus.de/denkmalpflege/public/downloads/UHDT_Reader.pdf