From the moment I started announcing to my family and friends that I would be going to Berlin, the single-most popular phrase I heard was, “You MUST got to the Pergamon Museum!” This past Sunday, I finally made the pilgrimage to this exalted space.
The Pergamon Museum, located on the Museum Island near the center of Berlin, specializes in artifacts and original-sized monuments and buildings from the ancient Near East. Some of the most popular items Byzantine mosaics, the Aleppo Room, and the Pergamon Altar. The pieces here are magnificent and truly bring the visitor back in time to ages long past.
My first attempt to visit the museum was in vain – I was rushing to the Island from the DOV office where I am doing my internship (more on that later) and was majorly confused by the distracting signs attempting to redirect the museum traffic due to massive reconstruction efforts. There seems to be construction every where in Berlin right now, but Museum Island was definitely the most concentrated. By the time I found the temporary entrance (around the back and by the Old National Gallery), they had stopped allowing visitors to enter. I also discovered that two-thirds of the museum was also under reconstruction, not just the facade, meaning that several of the exhibits were temporarily closed until 2019.
I was a little wary – the whole reason I truly wanted to visit was to see the Ishtar Gate, which were the beautiful decorative gates and entryway into the city of Babylon. Would they be in the part of the museum that was shut down?
Unsure of whether or not I would get to see the Gate, I decided to go ahead and try again to visit the museum on Sunday. Thankfully, there was no waiting line and I even was able to get a discounted ticket by showing my student ID (Tip: Always bring a student ID when traveling!) and was directed down a hallway into the exhibition hall.
Before I realized where I was, my eyes were filled with a dazzling blue and gold, flecked with green and dotted with white daisy-like flowers. Proud bulls and dragons seemed to strut mightily before me. They climbed ever higher in a towering facade that was obviously meant to intimidate as well as display the wealth and power the king of Babylon.
Gazing upon the Ishtar Gate, tears involuntarily welled up in my eyes. I allowed myself to be overwhelmed not only by the beauty and size of this magnificent structure, but by the sheer fact that through this Gate King Nebuchadnezzar had walked, and most likely so had the prophet Daniel and his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. My eyes were gazing the same facade that people of ancient Babylon and the captives of ancient Israel had looked upon centuries ago. I felt a strong connection with the past at that moment, and suddenly history became very, very real.
When I was finally able to pry myself away from the Gate, I wandered around the adjacent halls to see the amazing artifacts from Babylon, Assyria, Asher, Mesopotamia, and Medo-Persia. Truly, I felt as if I was walking through the Old Testament. On the other side of the Gate was the original entryway to a Roman market, with artifacts dating back to the time of Emperor Justinian who ruled several hundred years after the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Even so, it was like stepping into New Testament times walking around in this “market square.”
What an amazing feeling…
There was also an exquisite exhibit on Islamic Art that did not cease to amaze. The detail, color, and quality of the rugs, paintings, dishware, clothing, architecture, and more was simply astonishing. Wandering the exhibit also helped me realize how much modern society has to thank the ancient Middle East for, because in many ways they were far more advanced than their European counterparts.
One quirky example of something unexpected was the combination of blue and white in dishware. The Middle Eastern merchants were seeking to compete in the trade markets with the Chinese, who had created an excellent method of developing porcelain. Middle Eastern merchants decided to take the white porcelain and add designs in the deep, rich blue of cobalt to raise the value of their items. The Chinese were so taken by the simple and elegant beauty of the combination, they ended up copying it, developing what we know today as “china.” The Europeans, in turn, fell in love with the works from the Chinese and would trade and eventually learn how to manufacture their own fine china for a variety of things, not the least of which would be British tea sets.
Don’t you love history?
I’m so thankful to everyone who told me umpteenth times that I had to visit the Pergamon – it truly was not an experience to be missed. In fact, I’m thankful for museums in general because they truly are important institutions that help expose us to the new and the old, the familiar and the foreign, the past and perhaps even insights for the future. I wouldn’t be a true Washingtonian without recognizing this most important fact: Museums are the gates of history.
If you have never been to a museum, or at least haven’t been a while, make a point of checking one out sometime. Especially here in Berlin there seems to be a museum on just about anything, so search for something you’d be interested in and immerse yourself in the experience. You’ll be glad you did.
As for me, I hope to have the chance to visit some of the other museums on Museum Island at some point and will certainly make plans to return after 2019 to have the full Pergamon experience.
Do you have a favorite museum? Let me know about your experience.
Until next time!