On the Island

On our first full day in Berlin, we explored over 750 years of Berlin’s history. On our second day, we explored art and architecture from 3000 years ago to the present. Needless to say, it was another fascinating and exhausting day.

The Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon Museum

Berlin’s Museum Island (Museuminsel) is a UNESCO World Heritage site containing five-world class museums plus a special exhibit and the Berliner Dom, which Jim mentioned yesterday.

Timed tickets are required, and in my obsessive-compulsive planning, I read that it’s best to get to one of the museums, the Pergamon, when it opens. So off we went again for a 10 am time slot.

The Pergamon Museum is named for the Pergamon Altar, a restored structure from the ancient kingdom of Pergamene in what is now Turkey. The Altar isn’t currently on view due to updates to the Museum, but there is a fascinating exhibit that showcases part of the actual altar in addition to photos and video that depict what Pergamene might have been like around 200 BC.

Just a few of the sculptures that adorned the frieze of the Pergamon Alter are currently on display.

The Pergamon’s current main feature is the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, a towering, multi-room display made of both reconstructed and original materials from about 600 BC. The Pergamon is apparently the only museum that displays antiquities at original scale, and the display is pretty powerful. We got a look through a viewing window into another ancient complex undergoing reconstruction, the Mschatta Palace from about 700 AD. The museum does a great job of keeping areas open to the public while they are working on the museum and other exhibits. I don’t know about Jim, but I’d return to see the Pergamon Altar once it’s viewable again.

The Mschatta Palace undergoing restoration

But if I thought the works in the Pergamon were old, then we went over the Neues (new) Museum, where we saw figures from 3000 BC. The unlikely name for the museum refers to the fact that it was built after the original Altes (old) Museum to take on some of the work and the crowds that were overwhelming it.

In an era of overtourism, where major sites are invaded by selfie-seeking social-media tourists, I thought we’d be amongst a horde of people when viewing the famous Nefertiti bust. But no. We were one of three people in the room at one point, and it never got much more crowded than that.

Bust of Nefertiti. It’s one of the few objects you weren’t permitted to photograph up close. A stock image online is visible here.

The entire museum was a joy to visit. The building itself is considered a work of art by the famous German architect Friedrich August Stuler, and then it was masterfully redeveloped by British star architect David Chipperfeld after the damage caused in WWII. You enter into a dark room with low ceilings, largely containing sarcophagi. Then you ascend an enormous staircase lit by a glass roof that explores the frescoed walls meant to evoke the feeling of being in ancient Egypt. Chipperfeld retained as much of the original building as possible, and it’s fascinating just to look for the integration of the old and new parts of the building. This work wasn’t undertaken until after reunification in the 1990s. The East Germans put up a temporary cover to prevent further damage to the building but that was it.

This image shows how new elements were incorporated to shore up bomb damage from WWII.

In addition to the beautiful Nefertiti, which at over 3000 years old looks almost new, there are ancient papyruses, a display of thirty centuries of Egyptian art and wooly mammoth bones! I could go on. Although the Pergamon gets most of the press, Jim and I both enjoyed the Neues the best both for the building itself and the amazing collection.

We took a beer and curry wurst break along the Spree River to steel ourselves for one last museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, which offers a collection of 18th to early 20th century art. Since we’ve seen famous European in may other museums, we focused on the German painters here, including Adolph Menzel and Max Liebermann.

There was more to see here, but the sun was out, and we had “museum legs” so we called it a day on Museuminsel. Where to next? Another ‘gallery’ of sorts. The East Side Gallery is well-known as the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, which has been enlivened with work by graffiti artists from all over the world. The additional enticement to take the subway ride over was the ‘beach bar’ that our guide Jacob had told us about yesterday. Unfortunately, the bar was closed, and we had pushed ourselves maybe just a bit too much, so we walked the 1/2 mile stretch of the wall and headed back to our apartment.

Tonight is the reason for our trip to Berlin – the Drive-by Truckers concert. So I am vowing NOT to walk ourselves into the ground today. Maybe we’ll just enjoy the sunshine on our balcony for a bit.


  1. I’m just amazed by the Ishtar Gate – what a sight before going in to see that is amazing
    Happy Drive By Truckers Jim

    Liked by 1 person

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