Politics blamed for delay in Berlin's Holocaust memorial Some Germans question how much remembering of tragedy is enough

August 29, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

BERLIN -- Politics is being blamed for this week's major delay in a decade-old quest to build a Holocaust memorial in the heart of this once and future capital.

But the latest postponement of the project's go-ahead vote, until after Germany's federal election Sept. 27, has also raised a previously unspeakable question: How much national soul-searching over Nazi-era atrocities is enough?

"Too much remembering?" the respected weekly Der Spiegel asked on this week's cover, arguing that the protracted squabbling over the memorial masks a more deeply rooted reluctance to bring the wartime horrors so vividly to public attention.

Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen sparked the current furor over the memorial when he disparaged the model designed by XTC American architect Peter Eisenman as "too monumental." He also suggested that it would be more appropriately put at one of the concentration camps that were the scenes of systematic slaughter.

In this city that was the seat of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, Diepgen has complained that Berlin risks becoming "a city of memorials and repentance."

Gerhard Schroeder, Helmut Kohl's challenger in the ever-narrowing race for chancellor, entered the fray on Diepgen's side, apparently sighting a ripe subject for exploiting broader German dissatisfaction with his opponent.

Kohl has been an outspoken champion of the memorial, and the defection of Diepgen, a fellow Christian Democrat, has served to portray the 68-year-old chancellor as out of step with the majority of Germans too young to have any memories of the Nazi era.

Schroeder's adviser on cultural affairs, publisher Michael Naumann, earlier this month likened the memorial's grandiose scale to the gigantism practiced by Hitler's architect, Albert Speer. Eisenman's design calls for thousands of tombstone-like pillars erected across five acres near the Brandenburg Gate, evoking the image of an oversized graveyard.

Schroeder and Diepgen won postponement of a meeting of the Berlin and federal governments Tuesday, when final approval of Eisenman's model had been expected. Some Jewish community leaders and public figures criticized Diepgen and Schroeder for making the memorial an election issue in order to force postponement -- and a rethinking of the project if Schroeder wins.

Pub Date: 8/29/98

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