Shadow boxing in mind: The Holocaust Memorial

Shadow boxing in mind: The Holocaust Memorial 

I was just recently in Berlin where I stayed at a hotel very close to the Holocaust Memorial. I thus got to pass by it during the early morning and late at night. I got to see the memorial against the backdrops of snow, early morning darkness, midday sun and evening light. All of these backdrops gave one pause and a different feel and sense in one’s stomach.

holocaust memorial

At one point I just stood completely still and soaked in all the scene. At first glance, one might find the memorial a bit cold. Many have criticized it for lacking symbolism. I thus went in with that critique at the back of my mind.  I had also recently been to the Oklahoma City bombing memorial where the reflecting pool straddled by two gates and the field of 168 empty chairs for all that had died there, literally made you stop to reflect on the the moment in which the bombing happened.


The Holocaust Memorial has  two thousand, seven hundred and eleven gray concrete slabs, on a sloping field. Thus, each of the slabs are of different heights.  As you stand therein, you get a feeling, as my six year old son noted, that you are in a cemetery.  Perhaps a cemetery in New Orleans. It’s a bit of a maze to walk through it and you get a bit disoriented and I even got a bit frightened, at one point, when I couldn’t see where my son was.  


The natural and city lights that fall across the memorial throughout the day create striking shadows that play in your mind.  I realized that to feel this memorial you need to see it during different parts of the day. You cannot just go once.  


With the snow falling onto the slabs you feel a sense of fragility.Each tiny snowflake falls on to the ground and dissipates while as they fall onto the slabs they gather and add a beautiful white coating to the gray slabs.  At night, the lights of the surrounding buildings and the nearby Brandenburg Gate draw you in as a moth to a flame. It’s haunting and you almost hear whispers of those gone. Even my son was a bit still. You look about and wonder about the lost lives. You also start to think of what is going on currently in the world.


If you are ever in Berlin, I do highly recommend taking time to see the memorial at different points in time in order to fully grasp its symbolism.

15 replies »

  1. It’s an interesting memorial, Mimi and thank you for sharing it with me. I just Googled it to see when it opened…2005..which explains why I didn’t see it when I was there in 1992. The memorial does seem suitably haunting and it seemed to me which my overactive imagination that it was almost like the blocks are moving or almost animated in some way.
    Reading about your trip to Berlin is making me want to dig up my photos and diaries and write some posts about that trip. Put a book together for my kids. I had a wonderful time but as a 22 year old your interests are quite different and I could have seen more but then again, isn’t that an ongoing lament?
    xx Rowena


      • Mimi,
        Reading your posts has definitely made me feel like writing a whole series of posts about that trip and it would be really good to hook up with other bloggers who can provide the updated view.
        What was particularly memorable was sting in that East Berlin student house and the students from the East were talking to me about the hopes they’d had when the wall came down and how they had hoped for environmental action.
        When I was in Leipzig, for example, the old buildings were all covered in this black, smeary grime. For an Australian whose precious old buildings are around 100-150 years old, this was absolutely shocking.
        Love Google, turns out it was the St Nicholas Church which I’d been to. They’ve cleaned it up now but I’m sure the outside was covered in grime. Here’s a view of the interior now:
        Leipzig was still very Eastern bloc in style back then right down to the cars, fashion on the street etc. I asked someone for directions and they picked up on my accent and when I said I was from Australia, he said: Oh Kylie Minogue”. Australians haven’t always been enamoured with her and I was a bit taken aback at the time that there was this guy in backwards Leipzig and yet he’s heard of her. I’ve changed my tune now and quite like her music now. There used to be such a cringe factor though in her early days xx Rowena


  2. This is a wonderful post. I’d not seen either of these memorials but both are quite striking and I’m so thankful that you posted them. At first glance I thought the OK site was more appropriate but the more I looked and thought, the more I was drawn to the Berlin site. Powerful post


  3. Thank you so much for stopping by and liking one of my posts. I’ve read three of your most recents posts and am touched and impressed by your writing and insights. I’m looking forward to reading more. Carol


  4. Wonderful, evocative post, Mimi. This afternoon, middle daughter and I attended a presentation by one of the Jewish women at our church. She told the story of her family’s escape from Berlin, to Shanghai, then to other countries before uniting here in the states 20-40 years later. It was an amazing story, so I’m feeling a bit of synchronicity with the timing of your post.


  5. I have seen the OKC Memorial and agree that it is totally fitting to the actual event. The Holocaust was such a longer term and more wide spread happening that I’m not sure if any single memorial anywhere in the world could totally do it justice. I had no idea that the unified German state had even built a memorial this recently in Berlin and so close to the former Berlin Wall. They are doing everything they can over there to ensure that at least they are not involved in anything so horrific in the future. This type of forward thinking for me was personified by Angela Merkel’s place right in the middle of the line of world leaders who marched in Paris yesterday.

    I’m thought there might be some symbolism in the layout of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, especially as you described it. But, according to Wikipedia, the concrete blocks are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. So, basically, I am disappointed to learn that the architect/designer, Peter Eisenman, did not use any symbolism. However, observers have noted the memorial’s resemblance to a cemetery. An attached underground “Place of Information” (German: Ort der Information) holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem and it is meant to be a Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I was surprised that its purpose was so limited, though maybe I shouldn’t be in light of recent events in other parts of Europe.


  6. Mimi, thank you for this post and photos. I didn’t know that Berlin had a memorial for the Holocaust. It is so stark, and yes, I can see where it would make one stand still in awe and fright. Evidently, that was the creator’s intent: to create a feeling in the observer that makes the suffering of those who were killed a reality in one’s mind. Your descriptions associated with your photos are beautiful, thought-provoking and emotional. Lovely.


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