The key concepts
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was designed by New York architect Peter Eisenmann and was officially opened in 2005.
The Memorial covers an area of 19,000 square meters and consists of 2711 concrete slabs different in height. It is a Memorial in remembrance of all the Jews who were murdered during World War II. (Visit Berlin, no date)
The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is a site for dark tourism.
Boateng, Okoe and Hinson (2018) cite Sharpley and Stone (2009), who define dark tourism as tourists who visit sites, attractions or events that have something to do with negative historical events in which death, violence, suffering or disaster was prevalent.
Shoa tourism or more commonly known as Holocaust tourism is a specific form of dark tourism, in which the site of attractions are places, where Jews were tortured and/or murdered. (Smith, 2018)
A walk through the Memorial
When you walk through the Holocaust Memorial time stands still. This impressive site bears the grief, anger, and remembrance of what has happened during World War II. When I visited the site, I felt many sensations. I felt impressed, lost, sad, and even scared. However, even if you find yourself between blocks of concrete, there is a lot of dynamic. Additionally, the floor is slightly uneven and waved, and the different height of the blocks gives the Memorial movement. At some point, I realised, how these narrow paths create this unsettling feeling of “I want to get out of here”.
While walking through the Memorial I also noticed how everybody acts differently when visiting the site. Some silently walk through probably feeling the same as I did, others run through, some are tempted to climb on the slabs, and some like to take pictures on them.
In those different behaviours lays the problem I want to talk about in this blog post.
A horrific contrast
People sitting on the concrete slabs, posing for the camera, couples standing in the narrow paths, kissing for a photo.
Visitors seem to have forgotten what the backstory of the Memorial is. Or do they simply not care?
Berlin-based artist Shahaka Shapira decided to take twelve pictures of tourists posing in the Memorial and photoshop them into scenes of Holocaust scenes. (Smith, 2018)
His images went viral and eventually, his pictures were in the news, and thus the people on the pictures were in the news and harshly criticised. (Shapira, 2017)
Shapira recently decided to take the pictures down, after he received apologies from the people on the pictures. Some of them claimed that they were simply not aware of what their action meant and that they did not intend to offend anybody. (Shapira, 2017)
Of course, it is hard to imagine, how the Jewish victims must have felt, the pain they must have gone through. But should not the name “Holocaust Memorial” be enough to know it is about remembrance and paying respect?
Maybe it is due to automatism of tourists nowadays. They go to a site, take a picture and go to the next attraction. However, if we put it into context and compare it to our graveyards for example and ask ourselves “would you pose in front of a grave on a cemetery?” or “would you want random people to pose in front of graves of your relatives?”
I am sure, or rather I hope, that the answer to those questions is “no” for the majority of us. So why should it be appropriate at a Memorial with such a dark past?
It made me sad to see people posing so carelessly at the Memorial, but it is very difficult to find the root for this behaviour. The thoughts mentioned above are only a few explanations I could imagine might be the reason.
I think it is important that if we are in the position of a tourist we should always reflect when we visit Heritage sites – “Where am I,” “What is the history of this site?”. And put our behaviour into a familiar context and think again, if our behaviour is appropriate, especially at sites with a dark past.
Boateng, H. , Okoe, A. , and Hinson, R. (2018). ‘Dark Tourism: Exploring tourist’s experience at Cape Coast Castle, Ghana’ Tourism Management Perspectives, volume 27, July 2018, pp. 104-110. Available at: https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy1.hw.ac.uk/science/article/pii/S2211973618300503 (Accessed: 15th October, 2018)
Shahaka, S. (2017) https://yolocaust.de [Date last accessed: 18th October, 2018]
Smith, M. (2018). ‘Observance, Notes towards Decipherability’ Journal of Visual Culture, 17(1), pp. 68-96, Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com.ezproxy1.hw.ac.uk/doi/abs/10.1177/1470412918772462
(Accessed: 15th October, 2018)
Visit Berlin, Berlin Tourismus & Kongress GmbH (no date). https://www.visitberlin.de/en/memorial-murdered-jews-europe [Date last accessed: 18th October, 2018]
Figure 1: Field of Stelae of the Holocaust Memorial by Wolfgang Scholvien