This highly unusual memorial consists of 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae” arranged in a grid pattern on a slightly sloping ground occupying an entire city block of 19,000 square meters.
You can enter and walk through the field from all four sides and experience the wave-like form of the stelae differently from each different position.
After a fair amount of controversy, this unique design by the New York architect Peter Eisenman was approved in 1999, built starting in 2003 and completed in 2005. The Field of Stelae is open to the public day and night.
Eisenman recognizes that his design represents a radical break with the traditional concept of a memorial. In 1998 he explained: “The enormity and scale of the horror of the Holocaust is such that any attempt to represent it by traditional means is inevitably inadequate … Our memorial attempts to present a new idea of memory as distinct from nostalgia … We can only know the past today through a manifestation in the present.”
In one corner of the site there is also an underground Information Center which is intended “to back up the abstract form of remembrance inspired by the Memorial with concrete facts and information about the victims.”
The Memorial is centrally located between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz (GPS 52°30’50.89″ North; 13°22’40.83″ East).
About two km northeast of the Memorial is this sculpture in front of an old Jewish cemetery on the Große Hamburger Straße (GPS 52°31’27.56″ North; 13°23’58.60″ East). A plaque nearby reads:
This was the site of the first old people’s home of the Jewish Community Berlin. In 1942 the Gestapo changed it into a collection camp for Jewish citizens. 55000 Berlin Jews from babies to elderly people were abducted to the concentration camps Auschwitz and Theresienstadt and brutally murdered.
In front of the Friedrichstraße train station in Berlin (GPS 52°31’11.37″ North; 13°23’15.48″ East) there is a sculpture called “Trains to Life, Trains to Death” by Frank Meisler.
This is where the first emergency transports of Jewish children left for England on December 1, 1938. These “trains to life” saved the lives of ten thousand Jewish children by transporting them from Nazi Germany to Britain between December 1938 and September 1939. Most of those children never saw their parents again.
The sculptor Frank Meisler (1925-2018) was one of those ten thousand rescued children. Seventy years later, he made several sculptures to commemorate the rescue — and to memorialize the thousands of other children and their parents who were sent to their death, also on trains, by the Nazis during the Second World War.
This sculpture has a counterpart, by the same artist, outside Liverpool Street Station in London, which is where Frank Meisler arrived at the end of August 1939 with 14 other children from his home city of Danzig, now Gdansk, Poland.
My photos in this post are from 2009. I revised the text in 2018.
See also: Jewish Museum Berlin.