German Holocaust Memorial Building Begins

Mon April 14, 2003 - National Edition
CEG



BERLIN - After years of false starts, construction work began in early April on Germany’s national Holocaust memorial, with supporters pledging to completethe monument by the 60th anniversary of the Nazis’ defeat.

Bulldozers started leveling the nearly 5-acre site near Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate about 18 months after a groundbreaking ceremony.

"This is definitely the last time we will start building work. I will vouch for that," said writer Lea Rosh, who first proposed the memorial in 1988.

Parliament President Wolfgang Thierse said the monument should be completed by May 8, 2005, the 60th anniversary of the end of the allied victory over Germany in Europe.That would make the project more than a year overdue by the latest timetable.

"Something is really happening now, you can be sure of that," said Thierse, the top political backer of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

The planned monument — 2,700 concrete slabs laid out in a plot the size of two football fields in central Berlin — commemorates the more than 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

The final design by American architect Peter Eisenman was approved in 1999 after decades of emotional debate on how Germany could remember Holocaust victims. The following year, officials symbolically dedicated the plot in a ceremony boycotted by Berlin’sthen-mayor, Eberhard Diepgen, who complained it was too monumental. Backers penciled in a Jan. 27, 2004, completion date — the 59th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz deathcamp.

In October 2001, Thierse climbed aboard a power shovel for a groundbreaking ceremony as construction workers started clearing the site and predicted that building would begin the following spring.

However, more trouble ensued. Eisenman made, and then withdrew, last-minute proposals to change the design, calling for the concrete slabs to be coated with stone

.

The project bogged down further when city authorities had to repeat a tender for the construction of the slabs, following an appeal from an unsuccessful bidder.

Thierse said the first slabs will be put in place this August or September, once groundwater at the site has been removed and work started on a documentation center

.

The center was added to the design at parliament’s insistence in an effort to prevent the site from becoming a place where Germans could passively deposit responsibility for their past.

The entire project will stay within the $30-million price tag set by lawmakers, Thierse said.

Eisenman’s design, an undulating wave of slabs set slightly below street level, is intended to evoke the relentless order with which the Nazis exterminated Europe’s Jews. Backers on Thursday opened a viewing platform from which visitors will be able to follow progress at the site, near Potsdamer Platz.

"Obviously, we never thought it would take so long," Rosh said. "But since 1999, I’ve been sleeping well — I’ve been certain that we would get the memorial."