Research Paper: Contested Public Space: Memories

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[. . .] [footnoteRef:7] [7: Thakkar, Op. Cit.]

Berlin's "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe" has long been plagued with delays. In the planning for over 15 years, there have been disputes over its location, design, cost and building materials. The debates have centered on the legitimacy and functionality of the memorial. Over a period of many years, heated arguments about the necessity of building a memorial and to whom it should be dedicated criss-crossed the newspapers. In 1991, a dispute broke out between the Roma / Sinti survivors of the Holocaust and Jewish survivors. The Roma argued that dedicating the Holocaust Memorial to Jews was a "selection" not unlike that in the camps, but this time viewed as choosing between first-class and second-class citizens.[footnoteRef:8] Issues about the dedication of the Holocaust Memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust surged for years. Eventually, a monument to people persecuted for their sexual orientation was located across the street from the memorial, in the Tiergarten park. Paul Spiegel, president of the Central Council of the Jews in Germany, spoke at the opening ceremony of the Holocaust Memorial, saying that, he had "reservations…[it is] an incomplete statement… [suggesting] an hierarchy of suffering…pain and mourning are great in all afflicted families."[footnoteRef:9] [8: Historic Sites -- Berlin, Holocaust Memorials and Public Memory, Kennesaw University, GA: Public History Program / Holocaust Education Program, Retrieved] [9: Berstein, Richard. (2005, May 11) Holocaust Museum opens in Berlin, The New York Times. Retrieved ]

Jennifer Jordan has written extensively on urbanism and memory in Berlin, and has provided analysis about the relations between the landscape of a space and the sociological and political process that bring out its realization. She argues that land ownership and land use influence the types of memorials that get built and where they are built.[footnoteRef:10] Further, she suggests these dynamics may determine which memorials are forgotten and which are left "unmemorialized."[footnoteRef:11] The process of building a memorial -- an authentic memorial, as some would have it -- brings stakeholders into a personal and deep engagement with a place that may have a difficult if not violent history. A built place in such a location must challenge stakeholders to determine "how to treat real estate with a difficult past."[footnoteRef:12] [10: Jordan, Jennifer (2006) Structures of Memory: Understanding Urban Change in Berlin and Beyond. Berkeley, CA: Stanford University Press.] [11: Jordan, Op. Cit., 2006.] [12: Jordan, Op. Cit., 2006.]

The Holocaust memorial was located on a prime piece of real estate in the heart of a unified Berlin, but it is essentially a deterritorialized place. [footnoteRef:13] Cosmopolitan memory, argue Levy and Sznaider, attempts to deterrritorialize its memory and the site of the Holocaust Memorial fosters this process. The location of the memorial was part of the no-man's land that stood between West Berlin and East Berlin. It was a desolate space that did not belong to anyone, was not identified with anyone, and could not be built upon by anyone. It was essentially a non-territory. "In part, it is because of the former emptiness of the space, and the particularly disjointed geography of a reunified Berlin, that the space can be given over to memorialization in this fashion."[footnoteRef:14] When he visited the Holocaust Memorial, Julius Schoeps, head of the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies at the University of Potsdam, was reported to have said that the time for public memorials has passed, and that "They stand in the landscape, and people don't even know what they recall. I find it regrettable that they decided on a design that can stand for everything and for nothing."[footnoteRef:15] [13: Levy, Daniel and Natan Sznaider. (2002) "Memory Unbound: The Holocaust and the Formation of Cosmopolitan Memory." European Journal of Social Theory 5: 87-106] [14: Thakker, Op. Cit.] [15: Julius Schoeps, in an interview for Die Tageszeitung, Germany's daily newspaper. ]

The Holocaust Memorial was opened on May 10, 2005. The designer / architect Peter Eisenman says of it, that there is nothing about the memorial that symbolizes or evokes the soil or the land because "the soil was for the Germans."[footnoteRef:16] The architectural style of the memorial effectively decouples the structure from its historical basis. This decoupling can "convey the scope of the Holocaust's horrors without stooping to sentimentality -- showing how abstraction can be the most powerful tool for conveying the complexities of human emotion," explains Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic for The New York Times. There are no signs -- no names, no dates -- and all information is buried underground in the information center. This space, decoupled from history, has the ability to "psychically weave the Holocaust into our daily existence in a way that the painstaking lists [of victims' names] cannot."[footnoteRef:17] The effect is to destabilize the cultural memory.[footnoteRef:18] The Holocaust Memorial serves as a countermemorial, that is to say, a memorial built with the aim "not to console but to provoke, not to remain fixed but to change; not to be everlasting but to disappear; not to be ignored by passerby but to demand interaction; not to remain pristine but to invite its own violation desantification…" [footnoteRef:19] The countermemorial, to Young, is a critique of institutional memory.[footnoteRef:20] Heinrich Wefing, a preeminent architecture critic and expert on the post-war reconstruction of Berlin, recalled the years of controversy that had to be overcome in order for the Holocaust Memorial to become a reality. He gave credit to Eisenman's ability to create "a new type of memorial": a beautiful abstraction that "does not dictate what its observer should think or experience," but is nonetheless thoughtful and moving."[footnoteRef:21] [16: Thakker, Op. Cit.] [17: Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic for The New York Times. Historic Sites -- Berlin, Holocaust Memorials and Public Memory, Kennesaw University, GA: Public History Program / Holocaust Education Program, Retrieved] [18: Thakker, Op. Cit.] [19: Thakker, Op. Cit.] [20: Thakker, Op. Cit.] [21: Eisenberg, Peter in an interview for Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.]

The Construction of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

A competition for the design of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was held in April of 1994. Twelve artists were invited to submit a design and a stipend of 50, 000 German Marks was provided to each candidate. The proposals would be reviewed by a jury with representatives from architecture, urban design, art, history, administration, and politics. Interest in the project grew and at the end of the competitive period, 528 proposals had been submitted. Rounds of reviews commenced and 13 proposals were selected. But during the interim period between meetings, the jurors -- who ostensibly were then able to review the critiques of their fellow jurors -- asked that 11 proposals be put back in the running. Two proposals were finally recommended to the foundation for feasibility study. One proposal was designed by Simon Ungers architectural group from Hamburg, and one proposal was designed by Christine Jackob-Marks. Jackob-Marks' work included names of murdered Jews engraved in a large concrete plate, with empty spaces signifying Jews who could not be identified by name. Her proposal also included debris from Massada where the Jewish inhabitants avoided capture by invading Romans by killing themselves. Chancellor Helmut Kohl vetoed this proposal. It was considered too "German" and too similar to the Nazi death rosters. The controversy continued under many different guises.

In June of 1998, Peter Eisenman's design was chosen, but it was scaled down to 2,711 blocks, or stelae, after considerable controversy.[footnoteRef:22] Daniel Liebeskind, who was pupil of Eisenman's, claimed that Eisenman stole his design from the Berlin Jewish Museum's Garden of Exile. In July of 2001, billboards reflecting Holocaust denial sentiments appeared in Berlin triggering a funding controversy. [footnoteRef:23] In October of 2003, there was a major disruption to the project. Degesch, a subsidiary of the German company Degussa, was revealed by a Swiss newspaper to be the same firm that made Zyklon-B, the gas used in the gas chambers to murder Jews in the extermination camps. Degussa had been hired to coat the concrete slabs with an anti-graffiti substance. In fact, many stelae had already been coated and the anti-graffiti substance had been discounted as in-kind sponsorship of the memorial. Degussa had National-Socialist leanings during the war and this fact was ostensibly known to the construction management company and to Lea Rosh. Rosh declared that she had no prior knowledge of the connection, and she is reported to have said that, "Zylon-B is obviously the limit."[footnoteRef:24] Another subsidiary of Degussa had, but this time, already poured the concrete foundation for the stelae. Members of the Jewish community were outraged at Degussa's involvement and wanted them out of the project. Politicians on the Board of the foundation did not want to impose further expense on the project by stopping construction, or worse, destroying any… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Contested Public Space: Memories.  (2011, May 16).  Retrieved June 26, 2019, from

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"Contested Public Space: Memories."  16 May 2011.  Web.  26 June 2019. <>.

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"Contested Public Space: Memories."  May 16, 2011.  Accessed June 26, 2019.