Berlin has 5 amazing museums all on one island – Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With the 1 day allocated for museums, we weren’t going to visit all of them, so we picked the best two – Neues Museum and Pergamon Museum.
The building to the left in the picture above, the Neues Museum, was severely damaged in a series of bombings by the Allies in WWII. In the 1990′s, a British architect David Chipperfield was commissioned to reconstruct the museum building – restoring it to its original glory and trying to conserve as much of the original structure and materials as possible. There are some stunning spaces in the museum as a result. You can see some surviving facade on original brickwork with the modern glass ceiling above. Very cool.
Some rooms had part mosaic floors and part cement, and others had damaged frescos on the walls. In this room, I love how the pillars don’t match the ceiling – that all the rooms seemed patched together, because they were.
On this trip, though, Neues Museum was all about Nefertiti’s bust. Nefertiti was the Great Royal Wife of the Egyptian Pharoah Akhenaten back in the 14th century BC and the couple were responsible for a religious revolution in where they worshipped only one god. In the early 20th century, Nefertiti became a symbol of beauty after this amazing bust was discovered in Egypt. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any photos in the exhibit, but I borrowed this image from the Neues Museum website. Isn’t she stunning?
The museum has quite an impressive selection of sarcophagi and other ancient Egyptian artefacts. This is Nefertiti’s Book of the Dead, which contains a number of magic spells intended to assist a dead person’s journey through the underworld and into the afterlife.
The other sight to see was the Berlin Gold Hat - a Late Bronze Age artefact (i.e. as late as 600BC) made of thin gold leaf. Apparently, the hat was used to determine dates for the lunar or solar calendars, but it is also the inspiration for the stereotypical wizard hat covered in stars and moons. Pretty neat!
The second museum we visited was the more famous Pergamon Museum. It was spectacular, if only for the Pergamon Altar in the first room, which gives the museum its name. This 2nd century altar is from the ancient city of Pergamon in Asia Minor, now Turkey. It’s 35.64 meters wide and 33.4 meters deep surrounded by a frieze 113m long. It must be the biggest single exhibit I have ever seen in a museum.
The frieze that runs around the outside visualizes the battle between the Giants and the Olympian gods. There’s lots of parts missing from the frieze because in the late 19th century the Turkish locals were hacking off pieces of the marble and burning them down to get lime. Yikes! A German archaeologist appealed to the Turkish government to save the altar and transported it to Berlin.
If that was the only amazing thing in the museum, I would’ve been thrilled. But the next 2 rooms were just as impressive.
The first contained the Market Gate of Miletus – the whole gate! This 17m high 2ns century gate would’ve had traders flooding through to get to the market square of Miletus, a key trading town in today’s Turkey. It was destroyed in an earthquake in the 10th or 11th century and excavated in the early 1900s before being rebuilt here. Amazing!
The next room was even more magnificent. It contained Ishtar’s Gate - the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon. Babylon! I had to look it up, but Babylon would’ve been south of the modern day Baghdad in Iraq.
The gate was constructed in about 575 BC by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II. In 1902, the ruins of the gate were excavated and it was reconstructed here. The pieces from the excavation were put together like a jigsaw puzzle. This is actually the smaller of the original double gate – the larger one was too big for this room! I love the colours of the glazed bricks and all the lions, bulls and dragons. Awesome.
The city of Babylon had a huge processional way up to its massive double gate. Here is only a 30m length of the original 180m procession. What an impressive entrance to the city that would’ve made! You can see the height the walls would’ve been as well. So cool.
The last exhibit we saw at the museum was the Mshatta Facade – an 8th century facade from the palace of Mshatta in Jordan. It was a gift from the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II to get into Emperor Wilhelm II’s good graces. What a brilliant gift! It was seriously damaged during WWII during the Allied bombings, but still retains much of its beauty. The detailed facade is covered in animals and mythical creatures, flowers and decorations. A wonderful piece of Islamic art.
These 2 museums are the most popular in Berlin and its easy to see why. We had a brilliant and exhausting day, and I’d highly recommend anyone visit if they’re in Berlin. (Though be wary of the long lines to buy tickets! Get there at opening times to avoid massive lines. And if you get the day pass at one museum, and you can skip the line at the next!)
Berlin, you were totally amazing and I hope we can visit again sometime.