The Not-So-Neues Museum

Today’s Thursday, and you know what that means: free museums! (And let me say right off the bat: Yes, this is another one of those museum posts, but it’s hands-down the best museum I’ve seen in Berlin — or anywhere else in years — so bear with me. It’s worth it.) Today after work I finally checked out the Neues Museum, which means New Museum, which is something of a misnomer, since it’s a museum of the ancient world, and it was initially constructed in the 19th century.

I say initially because it was badly damaged in the Second World War and remained closed until last year. Its reopening was heralded for the genius of the English architect David Chipperfield,* who synthesized ancient artifacts, 19th-century craftwork, and modern construction to great effect. Indeed, people here in Berlin told me I had to see the museum for the architecture, which, they said, was more impressive than the collection itself.

The architecture is fantastic — no argument there. Here are a few shots of what you see as you walk through:

So yeah, the building is pretty impeccable. But the collection, I’d argue, is at least as impressive.

Let’s start in ancient Egypt:

The false door of the tomb of Methen (2600 BC)

An Egyptian sculptor's conception of the human form, 3000 BC

An Egyptian sculptor's conception of the human form, 1st century BC

I'm amazed by how well the color on some of this stuff was preserved (compared to, say, Greek sculptures, whose crazy colors we can only imagine). This color's survived since 2430 BC.

And this color's survived since 1470 BC.

Even cooler than preserved color: preserved papyrus writing. This is from 1900 BC.

A close-up of the same.

A tomb relief depicting a butchering scene (2350 BC)

Akhenaten and Nefertiti with three of their daughters (1350 BC)

And speaking of Nefertiti…. The most famous item in the collection is a bust of her. And it’s pretty magical — it’s got a whole room to itself, and she’s got a kind of a Mona Lisa-like magnetism to her. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed in the room, so you’ll have to make do with this.

But let’s move on from Egypt. There’s also a good collection of Roman artifacts:

This jug, depicting a battle in the Trojan War, was excavated by Heinrich Schliemann.

Helios (2nd century AD)

This is the face of a Barbarian. Learn to fear it.

Rome, 3rd or 4th century AD

Moving forward in time, this depicts various scenes from the Bible:

The Gates of Paradise, by Ghiberti (1452)

And this coin, along with a handful like it, is the only existing likeness of Charlemagne:

Silver denier, 800-814 AD

But yeah, let’s jump back in time again. Waaaay back.

Tools from between 700,000 and 100,000 BC. Yup, they're that old.

Neanderthal skull from 45,000 BC

The museum's most expensive acquisition, back in the early 20th century. Didn't take note of how old the skeleton is, but ... it's old.

Homo sapiens sapiens skull from 28,000 BC

Elk from 10,000 BC. They since went extinct in Germany, although apparently some have wandered over from the east in recent years.

And, finally, one of the more mysterious objects to me in the musuem:

This gold hat from 1,000 BC is encoded with various iterations of the lunar calendar. Origin unknown, but apparently thought to be southern Germany.

Bottom line: If you’re in Berlin and have time to see just one museum, this is it. Seriously. It blows the (much more famous) Pergamon out of the water.

Alright, I’m off to Holland. Catch you on the flip side.

*The guy who did the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, IA (Ryan) and the Central Public Library in Des Moines (TD, Solange). Also some award-winning stuff in England and Spain.

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