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A letter from an alum about the architect Peter Eisenman

April 26, 2004

As a German, I found it compelling to read the Peter Eisenman interview where he reflected on his architectural achievements and specifically found his insights relating to the approach to the hotly disputed Holocaust Memorial in Berlin of particular interest. According to these, Eisenman believes that if it were possible to conduct a poll, which could access the German subconscious, the results would reveal that 90% of the German population is against his concept of a memorial.

I cannot but agree, however with one important difference: You need not delve into the German “subconscious.” Almost everyone that I know – Germans and foreigners, Jews and non-Jews, old and young – find Eisenman’s piece of architecture not only absurdly ugly, but also inadequate as a symbol that seeks to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive for present and future generations. Eisenman seems to enjoy this mass rejection. As he states, he wishes to provoke. But whom? The surviving Jews? Their children? The Germans in Berlin who have to pass by this monstrosity every day? Perhaps the Germans or foreigners that visit Berlin?

Of course, de gustibus non est disputandum – but is the Holocaust really the context for artists to realize their pleasure for provocation? Does not, e.g., the Washington Holocaust Museum (which Eisenman dislikes, and which I found deeply impressive) provide a more sober and respectful example of how one should try to approach this subject?

Whatever the answer may be to these questions – the conclusion (was it Eisenman’s?) that the wide rejection of his project amongst the Germans indicates a “latent anti-Semitism” is absurd and, if I may say so, unmerited. The negative reaction to this work appears to be one that is primarily aesthetically driven and the notion that “you either like my architecture or you are an anti-Semite” — is not one that I can believe that Eisenman really had that in mind when talking to the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Christoph von Rohr ‘61

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