Recently, I’ve been obsessed with memorials.
That’s an exaggeration, true. But they sure have been on my mind an awful lot lately.
We arrived in Berlin in late April of 2012. My traveling companions, thankfully, were also interested in seeing the “holocaust memorial” – I believe the official name is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I knew a few things about it ahead of time – that it was “integrated” into the city and that there was some sort of controversy when it was built, fairly recently.
As we approached, I walked ahead of the others. I had read a bit about the experience of walking between the large stone blocks of the memorial and I wanted to feel what that was like on my own, not by following someone else. At the edge of the plaza, the stone blocks were part of the sidewalk – I didn’t notice this at first. The entire memorial was, I guess, the size of a football field – something like that. As I began to walk among the grid of stones, I waited for the feeling that the city of Berlin was disappearing behind me. The ground of the plaza wavered, and mostly was on a decline as you walk toward the center. The stone blocks, haphazardly placed, mostly rose above you as you meandered about. Some stones were tilted. I had read about a sound of crunching gravel that I would hear as I descended deeper and the city sounds went away but I never quite noticed that – the ground was not like gravel, it was more like cobblestone. I intentionally winded my way around, trying to create a little confusion for myself and for the three people who were following me. They were chattering, and I wished I were alone. And gradually I realized I was disappointed in how the memorial was built. From descriptions, I had assumed that as you descended deeper you would eventually be at the deepest section, and also at the end, and that the only way out would be to weave your way through a shadowy and silent maze of imposingly tilted stones. But instead, just as my heart was beginning to feel what the memorial’s designer must have intended, the decline turned to an incline and I began to see again the city street on the other side. The memorial was more like a depression in a field, not so much like a pit with no exit.
It wasn’t until the other side that I noticed the way the stones blended with the sidewalk. A few people were having lunch. I took a few photos. Then we went into the museum, below the memorial.