05 December 2011

Museums and Public Dialogue

Day 8 - Neues Museum - Friday, 2 December 2011

I have been looking forward to sharing this with Arthur since I first visited here in 2004.  In 2009, when we were last in Berlin, we went to see the collection, which was opening up two days later, one day later than we were going to be here.  What a disappointment.  So now, to right all wrongs, our intention is to spend the entire day at the Neues Museum.  Arthur, as am I, is entranced with the whole complex which includes the Altes Nationalgalerie.  It is here that you can see extensive war damage, and the Neues is largely a new building because of it.  The Altes had been worked on right after the reunification, and the Neues is the last to be finished...sort of.  This is a project (the whole of Museuminsul) which is going to take decades to rectify.

The problem is not the buildings but the collections.  They are truly wonderful, but the Egyptian Collection seemed to present several problems.  Some of this is due to the fact that the Neues contains other collections as well, which are well marked, and some of which are still in study, as they admitted.  In the midst of a court largely dominated by Egyptian stone tombs there were two Christian sarcophogai and a chist tomb.  The explanation was that these monuments were provided for contrast, and to make a broader statement about how cultures have expressed life after death.  Lame - they just didn't be long there.  

The Egyptian holdings are stunning:

As a young boy I read a book about the "heretic king" Ahketaten, and was fascinated by him.  The collection has a great deal of Amarna, his new capital on the Nile.  So I enjoyed that very much.  It was delightful to swim in all of the examples of a culture that had been cultivated for so many centuries, and to see its twists and turns as well.

The audio guides were very helpful, but the signage was minimal at best - nothing like the information lavished upon the visitor to the British Museum.  The beauty and the history made you want to know more.  There are other collections at the Neues, such as a papyrus collection (some of which is accessible to the public through a unique storage system), a small collection of Roman and Greek artifacts (most notable are the findings of Schliemann at Troy - more about this later), along with some medieval materials.  There is a prehistory section, some of which is still in study.

There is another message, however, at the Neues, and one squarely confronts it upon opening the front door.  The museum's other message is about the building itself, and David Chipperfield's reconstruction of the building.  Unlike the Altes Nationalgalerie, where one has to search for evidence of the war (it's in a side gallery on the second floor), here the evidence is everywhere.  The main staircase was not restored, nor were many of the rooms.  Bits of plaster and decoration survive in small and in larger instances, but one is certain that the building underwent serious damage.  One wonders to whom the message is directed.  Is it a constant reminder to the German people about consequences, or is a message to the Allies?  Perhaps it is both.  

There is another quite poignant message, as well, and there is no mistaking the recipient.  Several notations were made about articles that were taken by the Red Army, most especially the "Trojan gold" which was specifically targeted by the Red Army, and is now in display in the Pushkin Museum.  I've seen similar notices in my travels (in Prague about the armies of Gustavus Adolphus, in London in defense of the Elgin Marbles, and others).  This wouldn't be the last experience that we would have here in this regard.

We are tired after all of that.  It is more than the mind can take in.  We go to the S Bahn and take our usual ride to Tiergarten.  The little restaurant under the tracks, Tiergarten Quelle, looks like a dive, but our hotel hostess recommends it to us.  Once inside we notice that it is very busy, and their are no tables. A fellow guest at the hotel notices and motions that we should join them, which we do.  They are involved in a family dinner, so there is no cross talk, but how nice.  

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