This morning I took a series of trains to the inner city of Berlin for a brief tour of the top sites. I knew of a few things I wanted to see but stumbled upon something I hadn’t expected to spend over an hour admiring. This massive monument is an unmarked memorial for the victims of Nazi Germany. There were over 2700 cement rectangles of identical dimensions in varying heights, some slightly angled, organized in rows like a crop of stone.
The architect purposely gave the memorial a sense of ambiguity. But what it lacks in identity and explanation, it more than makes up for in emotion. With no defined interpretation, the artist forces you to explore your own feelings and form a conclusion without the influence of a definitive meaning. Keep in mind, this is just my interpretation of the massive garden of cement.
The amazing thing about the memorial is that you never really notice it until you are standing directly in front of it. The blocks start ankle high at first, making it almost inconspicuous, if that is even imaginable for a field of nearly 3000 blocks over 7 feet long. It isn’t meant to emulate a graveyard, but it provokes a familiar eeriness in the vast amount of inorganic stone. Standing on the sidewalk, I stared at the work, watching people appear from behind stones while others disappeared behind taller structures. I didn’t realize until I started walking through the monument that the once ankle-high slabs were now growing taller, waist-high until finally soaring over 10 feet above my head. Some leaning in on me, others slightly angled away. To say it was consuming would be an understatement. Rounding corners, I found myself face to face with strangers, only to have them disappear into the sea of cement seconds later. That feeling of people appearing, disappearing, coming and going was very telling. The precise organization of stelae reminded me of the idea of a structured society. The slight angling of the occasional stone, however proposed the idea of a domino in motion, on the verge of falling, seconds from a consequential disaster. If this was what the architect was intending, the idea of an inevitable collapse in a growing organized structure, he succeeded. And if his intention was solely to provoke thought and emotion, he certainly succeeded in that as well. There are a number of ways to interpret the memorial, and I think that freedom of contemplation could have been the most simple intent of the artist. To force everyone who encounters the seemingly simple structure to enter it, explore it, and become overwhelmed by it.