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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 May 2005, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Berlin opens Holocaust memorial
The memorial has opened after years of delay

German politicians and Jewish leaders have marked 60 years since the end of World War II by officially opening Berlin's vast Holocaust memorial.

The Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a field of 2,700 concrete slabs near the Brandenburg Gate.

The dedication comes after years of delays and disagreements over design and construction issues.

Backers of the memorial say the stones will be central to Berlin's identity, but critics say it is too abstract.

Others have criticised Berlin, capital of the Third Reich, for taking so long to erect a fitting memorial to its victims.

'Most terrible crime'

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joined Jewish leaders and parliamentary president Wolfgang Thierse for the opening ceremony.

I fought to keep names off the stones, because having names on them would turn it into a graveyard
Peter Eisenman, architect

"Today we open a memorial that recalls Nazi Germany's worst, most terrible crime - the attempt to exterminate an entire people," Mr Thierse said.

He added that the memorial signified the fact that Germany now "faces up to its history".

US architect Peter Eisenman, whose design divided opinion and was finally approved only in 1999, said he hoped that Berliners and visitors to the city will navigate the pathways as part of their daily lives.

"I like to think that people will use it for short cuts, as an everyday experience, not as a holy place," he said.

He dismissed claims that 60 years on was too late to erect a memorial, adding: "One hundred years from now, people will not say 'this came too late'. For me, it is still early."

National reminder

Standing on a 19,000 sq m (204,440 sq foot) patch of land sandwiched between the East and West Berlin of the Cold War, the new memorial is an undulating labyrinth of concrete plinths.

Visitors' thoughts on memorial

Visitors can move through the tilting featureless stones - each one a unique shape and size - from any direction.

There are no plaques, inscriptions or symbols along the way.

The stones have been treated with an anti-graffiti agent that authorities hope will ward off vandals and neo-Nazi sympathisers.

Even the anti-graffiti agent provoked controversy: initially the architect felt graffiti could benefit the memorial; later it emerged that the company supplying the agent once manufactured poison gas for use in Nazi death camps.

Disagreements over design and tone also dogged the project.

Right wing Germans marking 60 years since the end of WWII
Some worry the memorial could be defaced by right-wing sympathisers
Some said the design was too abstract, while others pointed out that many thousands of non-Jews perished in the Holocaust, but are excluded from mention in the memorial.

Others still said the monument's lack of obvious religious symbolism meant that it was not Jewish enough.

As a compromise, a visitors' centre has been constructed underneath the stones, offering information and context on the Nazi campaign against the Jews.

German journalist Lea Rosh, who first proposed the memorial in 1988, said it was essential that the country that tried to exterminate an entire people build a fitting memorial.

"It will be a reminder for the country of the aggressors," she said.

Pictures of the new Holocaust memorial in Berlin

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