One of the highlights of Berlin is the Museuminsel, or Museum Island. It’s comparable to the Smithsonian, in that some of the world’s best museums are clustered together in easy walking distance. Only in Berlin they cost money. Except on Thursday evenings, that is.
So yesterday four friends from the Goethe Institut and I went to the Pergamon Museum, certainly the best-known museum in town, housing some (ethically dubiously) airlifted altars and monuments from the ancient near east. After waiting in line for over half an hour (the last ten minutes or so in drenching rain, with the five of us huddled beneath a single umbrella), we made it inside.
The first sight visitors are greeted with is the magnificent Pergamon Altar:
The altar was constructed in the ancient Greek city of Pergamon, in modern-day Turkey, in the 2nd century BC, as part of the city’s acropolis. It was excavated, in pieces, in the late 19th century by the German engineer Carl Hoffman, and was transported to Berlin with the consent (now much regretted, I have to imagine) of the Turkish government. (Compare this to the ongoing Yale-Peru spat over Machu Picchu artifacts.) It was originally placed in the nearby, overfilled Altes Museum, but soon a new museum was constructed to showcase the altar.
The frieze along the altar’s base depicts the battle between the Olympian Gods and the Giants:
My comrades in front of the altar — Justyna (Poland), Leidy (Colombia), Sophie (France), and Simon (Spain):
Some more cool relief work:
Of course, these tasteful marble sculptures that now look like
probably used to look something like
At least as impressive as the Pergamon Altar is the Market Gate of Miletus, from 2nd-century AD Anatolia:
The museum is full of ancient writing, inscribed in stone, from what I’d call Babylonian hieroglyphics (Noah, I expect lots of corrections in the comments section)
to Assyrian cuneiform
to the most beautiful written language, Arabic:
Another highlight: the Ishtar Gate, the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon, constructed by Nebuchadnezzar II around 575 BC. Here, a model of what it used to look like, flanked by what actually remains of the walls:
And a close-up of one of the walls:
Berlin is a wonderful city, but I have to say, compared to all this, we live in pretty Spartan times.