The 5 unmissable objects on Museum Island in 2020

Berlin Best series

#1 Pergamon panorama

Spend a day and night in ancient Pergamon – leading city of the classical Greek world in now what is now western Turkey.  The spectacular 360° video view of Pergamon’s famous acropolis is huge, with the ancient sights and sounds of 24hrs (in minutes) from sunrise to sunrise. 

Pergamon was absorbed into the Roman empire and rebuilt in the early 2nd century CE.  The moments we see are the city’s celebrations as Emperor Hadrian personally visited the city in 129 CE, the beginning of Rome’s golden age in the East.  Gaze on the famous altar and temples, busy with worshippers and visitors, and down on to the lower city with its famous health centre.  Everywhere you look the city is teeming with life.  See if you can spot the tour guide explaining the story of the Battle of the Giants on the altar frieze itself!

# 2 The bust of ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti

When archaeologist Leo Borschardt found the legendary 14th century BCE limestone and plaster painted bust of the Egyptian queen he wrote home ‘you can’t describe it, you must see it!’

Still true today.

One of several versions found in a workshop in the ancient Egyptian city of today’s Amarna, the building was packed with artworks (many on display in Berlin’s New Museum).   Nefertiti and her husband Akhenaton oversaw a religious revolution in ancient Egypt focusing worship on just one deity – the light of the Sun – some say this contributed to the idea monotheism of Biblical Israel. 

Nefertiti was the step mother of Tutankhamun, and though their dynasty lasted only 2 short lifetimes, her bust and his death mask are still the most famous and iconic objects associated with ancient Egypt.

# 3 The Berlin Golden Hat

This object is mysterious, no one is quite sure where it was found or what it is.  Purchased from a Swiss dealer in the 1990s it’s probably from Southern Germany and dates to the 1st Millennium BCE.  Only 3 other similar ‘hats’ have ever been found.

The thinly beaten gold plate ‘hat’ stands some 75cm high.  At the tip is a decorative band reminiscent of the streaming rays of the sun, the body is decorated with punched circles, rings and crescents, hinting at the stars and planets.  Put the whole pattern together and it seems be a calendar, a calculator to track and monitor the 54-month lunar cycle. 

When you gaze on the ‘hat’ and appreciate the wisdom and knowledge it contains, and how long the heavens were studied to achieve this knowledge, it is truly breath taking.

# 4 Monk by the sea.

One of the most important periods in Berlin’s (and the World’s) history is the process that lead to the dawning of a united ‘German’ consciousness – leading to the birth of a united country in 1871.

Leading lights of that movement could be described as examples of the ‘German genius’.  The German Romantics included world changers like Goethe, Beethoven and Wagner.  But also, Caspar David Friedrich.  His work ‘the monk by the sea’ from 1810 is on Museum Island and no visit here is complete without viewing this revolutionary painting.  It’s bleak, but strangely compelling.

# 5 Ancient Troy

The ruins of modern Hissarlik in western Turkey are thought to be those of ancient Troy.  Surely there is no better example of the marriage of legend and literature, for example the Homers Iliad and Odyssey, and modern scientific discovery giving us a background narrative of ‘truth’ to under -pin and ‘prove’ the historical realities?

Though the treasures found at Troy were robbed by the Red Army during the fall of Berlin in 1945 later resurfacing in Moscow and St Petersburg, the Berlin collection is fascinating nevertheless.

The true archaeological story of the fall of Troy is that of the collapse and destruction of the famous of Bronze Age kingdoms in the Mediterranean that took place during the 13Th C BCE.  After a short ‘dark age’ this world was reborn – giving us the beginnings of Biblical Israel and democratic Classical Greece, from which our modern world descends.