Walking through the memorial of the murdered Jews of Europe was disappointing, if not upsetting. Let me first explain the structures. A large plot of land covered with 2,711 gray columns of various heights in a very symmetrical layout. The ground undulates up and down throughout the exhibit as you walk toward the center. The varying heights and slight directional confusion of the obelisks, due to the undulating ground, causes moments of disorientation. The sounds of the city go quieter and quieter as you move to the center until you feel almost alone, with nothing but the sight of cars and people in the distance keeping you centered in your reality. Below all this is a museum with much more detailed information and is very well setup in its own right.
The physical structure itself is a very well designed monument. You can agree or disagree with the minimalist nature on the outside, but you can’t argue that is it a work of art and one paying tribute appropriately. My issue comes with the upkeep and the demeanor of the visitors. Cigarette butts, gum and trash are strewn about the memorial. People are jumping from one column to the next and even playing hide-and-go-seek. Not children, but adults! They clearly don’t get it and it worries me that the message will be completely lost and the site itself will become a trivial byproduct of what some might view as collective guilt. The juxtaposition of these activities and attitudes from Germany to that of the United States amazes me. I thought we were the lazy, lax ones and Germany was the structured one. Goes to show you what assumptions do. I was fully expecting the type of cleanliness and reverence I see anytime I visit Washington, D.C. memorials. You don’t see people climbing up to jump off Lincoln’s lap or cigarette butts and trash lining the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Perhaps I need to adjust my expectations… then again, there are certain types of respect that don’t need translation.