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Germany

Winter weather is bad news for Berlin's Holocaust memorial

Berlin's Holocaust memorial has cracks in a large number of concrete slabs that form the centerpiece of the site near the German capital's Reichstag parliament building.

A crack running through one of the gray concrete slabs

Cracks are both a dilemma and an embarrassment

The director of the foundation that oversees the memorial, which commemorates those killed by the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler, says most of the 2,711 concrete slabs are damaged only five years after the monument opened.

According to director Uwe Neumaerker, more than two-thirds of the slabs are damaged, and experts so far have found no remedy.

Germany's mass circulation daily Bild reported that as many as 2,200 slabs - more than three-quarters of all the stone elements - have developed cracks due to frost and other weather factors. The paper cited experts who say the whole memorial, which originally cost nearly 28 million euros ($40 million), may have to be razed due to the instability of the slabs.

Wrong kind of instability

Aerial view of the Holocaust memorial

Aerial view of the Holocaust memorial

At the unveiling of the monument in Berlin five years ago, US architect Peter Eisenman said the work was "not too esthetic, and, of course, the experience of uncertainty and instability that we wanted is present in the memorial."

At the time, he was clearly referring to the concept of his design and not to any sort of physical instability of the stones that form the pillars of the memorial field.

Reports of some of the concrete slabs showing thin cracks first appeared in the media four years ago. Adam Kerpel-Fronius, from the memorial foundation, told Deutsche Welle that the problem was not new.

"This memorial site is not a small place. We ourselves need about three days to look at all the slabs and find the cracks. We do this on an annual basis to find out the state the memorial is in. We last did so in October, and we'll certainly do it again when the winter is over," he said.

The cause is still unknown

There have been attempts in the past to repair the damage with a synthetic resin injected into the cracks. However, these attempts have not produced the desired results and a better technical solution, which would also better reflect the esthetic considerations, is not yet in sight.

Mr. Fronius said it was not even clear whether the increase in the number of cracks was really a direct result of the harsh winter weather. He said a study has been commissioned to get to the heart of the matter.

An unidentified couple jump over the concrete slabs

The memorial has attracted more than eight million visitors

"We are trying to find out, because scientifically it's not established yet why the cracks appeared in the first place. We don't know, and the company (that built the memorial) doesn't seem to know. So, we have to establish the facts first, and that process is going on," he said.

Memorial still safe for visitors

While the foundation admits that more and more cracks have appeared over time, it hastens to add that a structural analysis shows that the slabs are safe and are by no means in the process of falling apart, or of posing a danger to the visitors who walk around amongst them.

The foundation vehemently rejected the view voiced by the unnamed experts in the Bild newspaper report, who suggested that the only solution would be to tear down the slabs and rebuild the memorial with more crack-resistant materials.

Since the Holocaust Memorial opened, the field of slabs and the adjacent underground exhibition center have been a magnet for visitors. Over eight million people have walked through the monument, which is a stone's throw from the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate.

Author: Hardy Graupner (gb)

Editor: Susan Houlton

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