Germany's Holocaust memorial marks 5th anniversary, says millions have visited

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's Holocaust memorial has attracted millions of visitors since opening five years ago and is now one of the capital's top 10 tourist attractions, an official said Tuesday.

Some 2.3 million people, equally split between Germans and foreign tourists, have visited the documentation center under the somber field of 2,700 gray slabs in the heart of Berlin since it opened in May 2005, said Uwe Neumaerker, the director of the foundation running the memorial.

The memorial to the Holocaust's 6 million Jewish victims is located near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate and is accessible around the clock. Only visitors to the museum are counted.

Parliament speaker Norbert Lammert praised the memorial's prominent location and said it has established itself as a new landmark.

"It has found its way into the city's life and into the political culture," he said.

Architect Peter Eisenman said the monument's purpose was to recall the memory of the Holocaust in "the daily life of ordinary Germans." Commenting on the monument's success, the U.S. architect called for an extension of the monument and the documentation center.

"I realize it's too small now," he said.

But Lea Rosh, who leads the memorial's fundraising group, rejected the idea of extending the monument or the museum, praising the documentation center instead for giving concise information.

"There is no comparable crime in world history, but there also is no nation commemorating its crimes in this way," Rosh said of the 19,000 square-meter (204,500 square-foot) monument across from the U.S. embassy.

Over the past five years the labyrinthine memorial has developed cracks and other damage to its gray slabs, the extent of which is still being assessed, Neumaerker said.

"However, nothing is falling apart," he said.

Concern about vandalism, however, proved largely unfounded, Neumaerker said. In five years the slabs have only been defaced with graffiti a few times, including with swastikas, but it has been quickly removed.