No two memorials carry the same connotation and resonance, even when these two memorials commemorate the same tragic period in the same city fewer than a ten minute walk away from each other. Both use abstraction to provide a different sort of sensation, yet ultimately provide similar thought and emotion.
The first one, and far less globally famous one, is both visually and emotionally reflective. It commemorates the burning of books by the Nazis in 1933, along with a chilling quote from Heinrich Heine:
“Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”
The white bookshelves are shockingly bright when empty. The lack of colour from spines and covers brings a sense of despair and reminds you of the colour fleeing from the world at the book burnings. This memorial is underground, and therefore easy to miss unless you know it’s there, which I feel adds to its potency. It’s easy to miss the building of a totalitarian regime too, which is why your eyes always have to be open.
In contrast, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a place for gathering and socialization. It’s packed with people having picnics, playing tag, hiding through the rapidly growing pillars. It’s a lived part of the city by design, which makes it difficult to quietly ponder yet feels symbolic in a way… it’s reminiscent of the post-war Jews becoming more of a lived part of society. The pillars do not tell you their meaning, unlike the bookshelf which practically weeps it. Are the pillars claustrophobic or protective? Does the wave represent the progress or the acceleration of xenophobia? Do the slanted pillars represent encroachment or disorder? Are we meant to analyze the shadows or the acoustics? It’s many things for many people, which ensures that you take the meaning you desire out of it. When you know what it’s for and you see what it is, it becomes your journey of quieter, slower, more public reflection.
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