844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Holocaust Memorial Jamboree (Berlin, Germany)

Sept 1st, 2010 - I could be, and probably am, way off base here but I have to comment on something I found to be a bit troubling, if not altogether repugnant. Barely a stone's throw away from the Brandenburg Gate is a Holocaust Memorial known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe. I'd read a little bit about this before my visit and was under the impression that the vast expanse of tombstone-style concrete blocks laid out at differing erratic heights on a undulating plain in the center of Berlin would be a place of reverence and somber reflection. After all, it is dedicated to six million murder victims and situated in what once was the capital of the Nazi regime. 

When I arrived on scene I was startled to discover adults and children alike behaving like the memorial was a low brow concrete block fun park, not a site dedicated to the attempted extermination of an entire class of people. Folks were sitting, sleeping, and standing upon the blocks as well as skipping across them the way I used to hop from stone to stone in the local stream. Two words: F***ing flabbergasted. As I walked around the perimeter and weaved my way through the columns I simply could not look upon what I was seeing as anything other than bewildering acts of extreme insensitivity. It is true that many (but not all) of the perpetrators were children but more often than not it was done in full view of and with the tacit approval of parents. Some even encouraged the behavior by having 'cute' pictures taken of the kids standing atop the blocks. 

Maybe I'm the asshole here because no one else seemed to be on my wavelength which inevitably led me to question the validity of my perception. Indeed, signs on the ground along the edge of the memorial merely discourage those making loud noise within the columns (out respect I assume) and prohibits visitors from playing leap frog along the tops of the blocks. Yes, there are security personnel overseeing the site but they seem to be most concerned with the skipping mongoloids, although admittedly they were not nearly as stringent as I would have thought. To be honest it appeared to be related more to safety than out of any sense of respect. 

While sipping coffee at a rooftop café overlooking the memorial I asked a waitress (from England) her opinion on the matter. My view of the situation never seemed to have occurred to her. Another friend told me that the 'tombstone' interpretation is merely one of many. And I have to admit the memorial is in a public square open to all passers-by 24 hours a day. The blocks are exceedingly plain and had I not been aware of the site's significance I myself would have probably unleashed my inner kangaroo on the rows of concrete blocks. All in all I suppose the area is not conducive to an overwhelming sense of deference. But still, is this not a F***ING Holocaust memorial!!!!!!! If this same arrangement were found on the grounds of Auschwitz or Dachau I seriously doubt children would be playing hide and go seek while screaming with giddy anticipation in an attempt to avoid being 'it'. Call me crazy. 

I have not even mentioned the underground museum. Beneath the blocks lies a museum dedicated to families and individual victims of the Holocaust. Within the walls you will find general history punctuated with individual tales of horror. The idea is to personalize what happened. These weren't just Jews. They were people. They each have a tale to tell. 'The Room of Families' highlights the havoc wreaked upon entire families along with their locations and forced migrations throughout Europe. There is 'The Room of Names' where the name of a victim is projected on all four walls of a darkened room while the personal story of the individual is read aloud. There is also a room with correspondence and journal entries from those experiencing the nightmare first hand. Often there is a note with the words, 'The fate of so and so is unknown'. The museum also has a searchable database for those wishing to trace relatives that may have died in the genocide. In all there are over three million names in the bank, only about half of the estimated total that perished (names are still being added). 

As I sat there trying to reconcile my fairly laid-back nonjudgmental nature with a growing disdain for humanity as a species a thought suddenly occurred to me: This may be the most brilliant and poignant memorial ever conceived and built in the history of mankind. Perhaps, this is exactly what the artist intended, a real life fluid representation of the past, present, and future struggle of Jews. A metaphor if you will. Viewing the scene through this lens made me feel like I was watching a work of art constantly reshaping itself, a work in progress, never to be completed. If the purpose of art is to influence, to stir emotion then this one is an overwhelming success, at least from my standpoint. 

I suppose the real question is: What would Jews think of all is? Unfortunately, there were none on hand to ask (at least none I could discern). I did find signs of reverence in the form of individual flowers laid upon some of the blocks, as if to underscore the gravestone allusion. So it seems someone somewhere appreciated the solemn nature of the site. If I was a betting man I would place my money on someone of the Jewish persuasion. 

UPDATE: After doing a little research it turns out I am the asshole…..I guess. Peter Eisenman, the designer, is quoted as saying, "I want it to be a part of ordinary, daily life. People who have walked by say it's very unassuming... I like to think that people will use it for shortcuts, as an everyday experience, not as a holy place." So it appears that I am missing the whole point and that I might as well wipe my ass with my 'theory of brilliance'. Hath I not becometh a bit oversensitive?

UPDATED UPDATE: Screw that. I've given this a lot of thought. An 'unassuming Holocaust memorial' is a contradiction in terms. Personally, I find the idea preposterous. Either its a memorial to six million dead people or it is not. As far as I am concerned no happy medium exists. My first reaction to the behavior I witnessed at the memorial was one of disgust. I'm going with that. Perhaps, there is an art lesson here. A work of art, once completed, once unveiled, is no longer the sole property of its creator. It belongs to anyone who takes the time to fully appreciate its significance. I do not care what Mr. Eisenman intended or what he 'meant'. I only know for certain its effect upon me. I just assume hold a birthday party at Auschwitz then gambol fecklessly through the grounds of this site. When all is said and done it just feels wrong to me.


  1. When it comes to situations like these, where one has to explain the importance of respect for the dead to the common layman, I usually mark its importance or clarify it to them by explaining to them how one would feel, if they had to walk a mile in their shoes... the significance amplified when you point it to them that this is a memorial for victims of mass genocide, not for someone's grandfather that has passed away of natural causes. The only way one can truly understand/perceive other's ideas/perspectives these days is if they have also suffered the same.

    I feel Peter Eisenman has generalized something (the memorial) that is meant to evoke feelings of remembrance, least of all respect for victims of people who have suffered under excruciating conditions, into a "novel" approach for the sake of calling it "art". And we all know how art is meant to be subjective. I disagree with his take, because at the end of the day, I know if I were one of these victims, and if I knew all I was, was a statistic in history books, I'd choose to be remembered by my family and loved ones in private. Any memorial should be lessons learned.. while skipping rope, giggling, having a picnic is all fine and dandy within the premises of a park, homes etc, a memorial defies all definition of such.

    I am not sure how this "everday experience" memorial was sold to the public, but I also feel that it is a reflection of the times.. some people just want to forget. Sometimes some people choose to ignore.

  2. My apartment window faces directly onto the Holocaust Memorial.
    Five years ago we(my German-born wife) and I chose this apartment precisely because of this view, and directly related to our recent visit to Auschwitz.
    We chose this apartment to remain in remembrance of the past, but also to be cognizant of the huge (and unfinished!) work many (not all!)brave Germans have undertaken to integrate this evil past into a shining open developing German understanding and identity NOW.
    We chose this apartment to inspire us to integrate this trauma of the past into yet greater capacity to humanity right now.
    So may I share my own view?
    In this context may I say I don't think there will ever be a right view, simply because the dark enormity of the Jewish (and the gay, and the gypsy) Holocaust is humanly beyond our imagination.
    But we continue the discussion, as we must.
    Sadly due to limited time, my comments must remain shorter than the subject merits.
    So ist das Leben. C'est la Vie.
    We walk through the Memorial every couple of days with our 4-year old son.
    How should we communicate this to this little German with a New Zealand father, whose grandfather fought (second-highest medal of bravery) in the Second World War against the Nazis, or his great grandfather who lost his arm fighting the Germans in World War One?
    How should I offer him a German identity that will help my son move forward?
    In our own case we feel completely at home letting him play Hide-and-Seek within the Memorial.
    Sometimes however we ask him to be quieter since "we don't want to hurt others' ears"
    We have not yet told him anything of the Nazi past.
    He has no context yet to handle this.
    One time he came with his toy gun, as almost all young boys have, and I asked him to put it away and not carry it here.
    If he had refused I would have gone away from the Memorial.
    I personally feel that the Memorial is an incredible attempt to memorialise this historical event.
    I also feel the vital aliveness of the German-language discussion of what is "appropriate" in relation to this special German past.
    But it will inevitably always remain an attempt: I refuse to call anything related to the Holocaust a "success".
    This would dishonour that which must remain piercingly human and vulnerable and available to us today: the suffering of many millions at the hand of other humans.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment. I sincerely appreciate it. Even years later I have a hard time reconciling the causal nature of the memorial with the deathly serious nature of what it memorializes. After rereading my post perhaps I was a bit over the top but it reminds me of the effect the experience had on me. I still lean towards my final conclusion but it is certainly worth a debate. Thanks again.



'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim