Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

In 2005, Berlin dedicated this memorial to Jews who died in the Nazi Holocaust.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin 2010

© Leslie Hossack

Today’s image is the last in a series of photographs from historic Berlin. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe serves as the transition piece from Nazi Berlin to modern Israel in my exhibition CITIES OF STONE – PEOPLE OF DUST, on view at the Red Wall Gallery in Ottawa until September 2nd.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is located in the heart of Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate, where the Berlin Wall used to divide East and West Berlin. Design by American architect Peter Eisenman, this Holocaust memorial was inaugurated on May 10th, 2005, sixty years after the end of World War II.

The area covers four and a half acres, and consists of 2,711 blocks or stelae arranged in a grid. Narrow, undulating pathways run between the blank, concrete stelae which measure 7 feet 10 inches long, 3 feet 1 inch wide, and vary in height from 8 inches to 15 feet 9 inches. The site reminds one of an ancient graveyard, such as the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. “I fought to keep names off the stones, because having names on them would turn it into a graveyard,” said Eisenman.”I like to think that people will use it for short cuts, as an everyday experience, not as a holy place.”

Beneath the memorial, an underground information centre holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims; these names were obtained from the Israeli Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Originally Eisenman objected to the inclusion of an information centre under the field of stelae, but later he said, “One is the unforgettable, which is the silence of the field; the other is the memorable, which is recorded in the archives.”

Over 70 years after Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933, Berlin dedicated this memorial to the more than six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, the murdered Jews of Europe.

Architect: Peter Eisenman  Date: 2004

Ihne Tower Staircase, Academy of Arts

In 1937 Hitler commandeered the Berlin Academy for his architect Albert Speer.

Ihne Tower Staircase, Academy of Arts, Berlin 2010

© Leslie Hossack

The Academy of Arts building created by Ernst von Ihne in 1906 is linked to National Socialist architecture more by anecdote than by design. In 1937, Hitler commandeered the Academy for his architect, Albert Speer, whom he had named Inspector General of Buildings for the Renovation of the Federal Capital. It was here on Pariser Platz, in the skylight rooms of the old Academy building, that Speer built his 30-foot model of Germania.

Hitler often visited to inspect the model and to discuss his monumental plans for the rebuilding of Berlin. Speer put forth his “Theory of Ruin Value” which proposed building structures in such a way that they would resemble Roman models, even in a state of decay after 1000 years. Hitler subsequently ordered that all the important buildings of his Reich must be constructed according to this law of ruins.

During WW II, the Academy building was badly damaged and later it was completely demolished, except for the Ihne Tower staircase shown in this photograph and the original skylight rooms. Located near the Brandenburg Gate, these remains formed part of the death strip along the Berlin Wall from 1961 to 1989. At one time, the East German government built a detention cell in the structure to imprison people who had been caught too close to the border.

After German reunification, the new Academy of Arts complex eventually opened in 2005. It is a stunning concrete and glass structure built around the historic remnants of the original skylight rooms and staircase.

Architect:  Ernst von Ihne                                                              Date: 1904-1906

Architects:  Behnisch & Partner with Werner Durth                 Date: 1994-2005

Victory Column, Grosser Stern

In 1938 Hitler had Albert Speer move Berlin’s Victory Column to Grosser Stern.

Victory Column, Grosser Stern, Berlin 2010

© Leslie Hossack

The Victory Column was originally located in front of the Reichstag, the home of the German Parliament. In 1938, in line with Hitler’s plans to redesign Berlin as a world capital called Germania, he had his architect Albert Speer move the Victory Column to Grosser Stern (Great Star). At the same time, Hitler added a fourth section to the column, making it almost 67 metres high. It is topped by a sculpture of Victoria, nicknamed Goldelse by Berliners.

Speer redesigned Grosser Stern, a huge traffic circle situated in the centre of the Tiergarten, and widened the east-west axis road running between it and the Brandenburg Gate. He also designed four classical pavilions around the circle; these provide access to pedestrian tunnels running under the roadway to the Victory Column in the centre of the Great Star. These pavilions and tunnels still exist today.

To the east and west of the Victory Column, more than 700 light standards designed by Speer were installed along the ceremonial avenue now called Strasse des 17. Juni. Near the end of WW II, the lampposts between the Brandenburg Gate and the western end of the Tiergarten were removed in order to use the road as a runway for German planes. Thus only about half of the original light standards remain in place today.

As can be seen in this photograph, the Victory Column is once again undergoing renovations. This iconic landmark is a remarkable example of urban change and continuity in the historic city of Berlin.

Original Architect:  Heinrich Strack                                    Date: 1873

Relocation Architect:  Albert Speer                                      Date: 1938-1939

Entrance Plaza, Tempelhof Airport

Tempelhof Berlin was once described as “the mother of all airports.”

Entrance Plaza, Tempelhof Airport, Berlin 2010

© Leslie Hossack

Tempelhof Airport was described by the renowned British architect Sir Norman Foster as “the mother of all airports.”

Built by the Nazis, Tempelhof was taken by the Soviets during the Battle of Berlin at the end of WW II. Shortly thereafter, the airport was turned over to the United States as part of the American occupation of Berlin.

In 1937, Hitler had appointed his favourite architect, Albert Speer, to the position of “General Building Inspector for the Redesign of the Reich Capital.” Tempelhof was built in line with Speer’s grandiose plans to expand Berlin into a global capital called Germania.

Nazi administration buildings such as Tempelhof Airport were built in a monumental style that reduced design to its essentials. This approach is distinguished by smooth unadorned surfaces that appear severe and two-dimensional. The National Socialist style is often characterized by a reinforced concrete frame that is clad in natural stone; façades are flat and symmetrical, and window frames are rectangular with sharp edges.

Tempelhof Airport is a typical example, with its identical rows of windows. The large entrance plaza seen in this photograph is framed by three-story wing structures on either side of the massive five-story reception building with its 21 entrance doors. A 45-metre-high Reich eagle sat on the roof of the main building until 1962; today, only its head is left on display in front of the plaza.

Architect: Ernst Sagebiel          Date: 1935-1941

Swimming Stadium and Pool, 1936 Olympic Games

Perhaps the best-known account of the 1936 Summer Games is Leni Riefenstah’s film Olympia, with its celebrated diving sequence.

Swimming Stadium and Pool, 1936 Olympic Games, Berlin 2010

© Leslie Hossack

The swimming stadium is positioned just to the north of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Stadium. It is one of many competition venues located on the 130-hectare site of the Reichssportfeld.

Like the main arena, the swimming stadium is clad in limestone. It holds 6,500 spectators, but during the Olympics thousands more were accommodated on temporary stands. The stadium contains a swimming pool measuring 20 x 50 metres, and a 20 x 20 metre diving pool. Here, Marjorie Gestring of the United States won the women’s three-metre springboard diving event at the age of 13 years, 268 days. She was the youngest person to win a gold medal, and that record still stands today.

Another young swimmer, 15-year-old Austrian champion Ruth Langer, refused to compete in the 1936 Olympics. Although anti-Semitism was strong in Austria, officials had named Ruth, Judith Deutsch and Lucie Goldner to their swimming team. The three women, all Jews, refused to take part in the Olympics, saying: “We do not boycott Olympia, but Berlin.” However, there was no mass international boycott of the games.

Perhaps the best-known account of the 1936 Summer Games is the full-length film Olympia, directed by Leni Riefenstahl. The diving sequence shot at the swimming stadium is one of the most celebrated parts of this notorious film that was awarded a Gold Medal by the IOC. Although Riefenstahl was cleared by a denazification court in 1952 of charges of Nazi collaboration, she was haunted for the rest of her life by questions about her role in creating propaganda for Hitler and the Nazis.

Architect: Werner March          Date: 1936

Cauldron, 1936 Olympic Stadium

The 1936 Berlin Olympics marked the first time that a torch relay was run from Olympia to the site of the games.

Cauldron, 1936 Olympic Stadium, Berlin 2010

© Leslie Hossack

The 1936 Olympic Games were the largest to date; they involved approximately 4,000 athletes from 49 nations, and 3.8 million spectators. It was the first time that the games received worldwide radio coverage, and there were TV broadcasts as well. The Nazis were masters of symbols, pageantry, communication and propaganda.

The Berlin Olympics also marked the first time ever that a torch relay was run from Olympia to the site of the games. The cauldron, located just inside the Marathon Gate of the Olympic Stadium, is Germanic in design with its clean, unadorned lines. Like all Nazi architecture, it is intended to look durable, permanent, timeless. Hitler decreed that the Olympic Stadium be constructed entirely of German materials, and this was true for the cauldron as well, which is made of steel on concrete.

Clearly visible in this photograph is the new roof of the stadium, added during the 2000-2004 modernization. The cantilevered construction is made up of a steel framework covered by a membrane, except for the outermost 13 metres which are glazed. Integral to this new roof are state of the art lighting and sound systems.

The renovated stadium now seats 74,228 people, not 100,000 as it did originally. On the right hand side of this image you can see the VIP boxes which look the same as they did when Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler stood there, in the so-called Führer’s box, and officially opened the Berlin Olympic Games.

Architect: Werner March                         Date: 1936

Conversion Architects: GMP                  Date: 2000-2004

East Gate, 1936 Olympic Stadium

75 years ago, in August 1936, the XI Games took place in the Berlin Olympic Stadium.


East Gate, 1936 Olympic Stadium, Berlin 2010

© Leslie Hossack

The East Gate of the stadium, also known as the Olympic Gate, is made up of the Bavarian Tower and the Prussian Tower; together they support the Olympic Rings. Although modernized in 2000-2004, the stadium as seen in this photograph looks much as it did for the XI Olympic Games.

In 1933, Hitler personally intervened in the design of the stadium; he had his architect Albert Speer modify its outward appearance to keep it more in line with the Colosseum in Rome. The Berlin stadium, made of reinforced concrete, was covered with a veneer of limestone at Speer’s suggestion. There are 136 columns supporting the two-story arcade around the outside of the oval arena that held 100,000 spectators.

Architecture in The Third Reich was used to express the power of the state, and massive buildings were designed to symbolize Germany’s international standing. Hitler said he wanted to see eternal works built in Berlin, “comparable only to Ancient Egypt, Babylon and Rome.” The Nazis used the Olympics as a showcase for the National Socialist dictatorship; however, these games are now often referred to as the Propaganda Games. At the same time as Hitler was opening the games on August 1st, 1936, forced labour was being used only 35 km away to build Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

After WW II, the British occupied the Olympic site until 1994. Following the recent renovations, the stadium hosted the 2006 FIFA World Cup and it is now home to Hertha BSC, Berlin’s soccer club.

Architect: Werner March               Date: 1936

Conversion Architects: GMP        Date: 2000-2004

VIP Stairway, 1936 Olympic Stadium

Exactly 75 years ago, on August 1st, 1936, Hitler opened the XI Games in the Berlin Olympic Stadium.

VIP Stairway, 1936 Olympic Stadium, Berlin 2010

© Leslie Hossack

Exactly 75 years ago, on August 1st, 1936, Hitler mounted these stairs in the Berlin Olympic Stadium, entered his VIP box, and officially opened the XI Games. The Nazis used the Olympics as a showcase for their National Socialist dictatorship; however, these games are now often referred to as the Propaganda Games. At the same time that Hitler was opening the games, forced labour was being used only 35 km away to build Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

The Third Reich used “monumental” architecture to exalt the state and diminish the individual. In 1933, Hitler personally intervened in the design of the Olympic Stadium; he had his architect Albert Speer modify its outward appearance to keep it more in line with the Colosseum in Rome. The Berlin stadium, made of reinforced concrete, was covered with a veneer of limestone at Speer’s suggestion. Following the Olympics, Hitler attended many National Socialist events in the stadium. During a state visit in 1937, Hitler and Mussolini mounted these stairs and stood together to watch a nighttime rally in the arena. The spectacle included a “Dome of Light” created by Albert Speer using anti-aircraft searchlights.

During the recent modernization of the 1936 Olympic Stadium, the outside appearance was preserved as much as possible, with the exception of the new roof. However, the inside of the stadium was completely redesigned, except the rooms behind the VIP section which are protected by conservation laws. The stairs in this photograph are located in the protected area, and they lead up to the Balcony of Honour. It is said that during the Nazi regime, when it was time to leave the VIP lounge and go up to the Führer’s Box, Hitler alone would use these stairs and others would be directed to a different stairway.

Architect: Werner March          Date: 1936

Conversion Architects: GMP   Date: 2000 – 2004