It was extraordinary to experience the incredible and complex history of Germany’s Capital city of Berlin.
The first mention of Berlin as a Capital city was in 1417; it was the Capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg. The city has retained its capital status for centuries, regardless of the name of the country it was in. Berlin was the Capital of Prussia beginning in 1701, the Capital of the German Empire from 1871–1918, the Weimar Republic from 1919-1932 and the Third Reich from 1933-1945. East Berlin was the Capital of the German Democratic Republic or East Germany from 1949-1990 and the whole of Berlin has been the Capital of the reunited Federal Republic of Germany from 1990 to the current day.
This fascinating city is filled with exceptional museums, many built and opened in the 1800’s.
Museum Island or Museumsinsel in German, lies in the heart of Berlin and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A number of the most significant museums in Germany and Europe are found on Museum Island. Filled with thousands of jaw dropping artifacts, we found ourselves spending several hours in each and every museum we stepped into.
Translated as the Old Museum, it opened in 1830 and is the oldest museum on Museum Island. The first space of the museum reminded us of a Greek temple, filled with statues of gods. The entire main floor showcased the art of ancient Greece from the 10th to 1st century BCE. Equally as fascinating was the art and culture of the Etruscans, located on the upper floor.
The marble statue below is known as the Berlin Goddess and is commonly believed to be the statue of a Greek goddess. The pomegranate held by the figure may indicate that the statue was given as a part of a marriage or in memory of a deceased individual, with the pomegranate being a gift to a god or goddess. However, if the figure is a goddess, the headdress she is wearing is commonly connected to the fertility goddesses and the pomegranate may indicate that she is the goddess Persophone.
The statue was found at Keratea, Greece (near Athens) wrapped in lead and mostly undamaged. There are remnants of the red color that the statue was originally painted with.
The Old National Gallery opened in 1876. It too is located on Museum Island on Berlin’s river Spree.
The art presented in this gallery is primarily from the 19th century but they too have amazing sculptures in their sculpture hall. The double statue of Crown Princess Luise and Princess Friederike of Prussia below was created by the extremely talented Prussian sculptor, Johann Gottfried Schadow (1764-1850).
Johann Gottfried Schadow’s most iconic work however is the chariot on top of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate which he created in 1793, when he was only 29 years old.
We enjoyed wonderful collections of paintings by various German artists like Adolph Menzel (1815-1905) and Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) as well as the Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901). Additionally there were dozens of famous works by the French Impressionists we admired. Photos linked at the bottom.
The Berlin Cathedral, also known as the Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church, is a German Evangelical church located on Museum Island near the museums. It was built between 1894 and 1905 in the Italian Renaissance style, replacing a smaller baroque cathedral on the same site. In May 1944, during World War II, a firebomb struck the dome and severely damaged the building. Reconstruction was not fully completed until 2002.
Built between 1843 and 1855, Neues Museum is perhaps most well known as one of the world’s most iconic collections of more than 2500 ancient Egyptian artifacts. The collection contains artifacts dating between 4000 BCE through to the 1st century BCE and the beginning of Roman rule. The majority of pieces on display date from the time of King Akhenaten, around 1340 BCE. We felt the papyrus collection was particularly impressive.
Side note: It would be awesome to visit Egypt’s new Grand Egyptian Museum that is expected to open in the spring of 2023. It advertises that it has more than 100,000 artifacts and for the first time, will display the full Tutankhamen collection.
In 1828 the first Egyptian objects were brought to Berlin and an Italian merchant’s extensive collection formed the basis. In 1842-45 a Prussian expedition headed to Egypt and returned with additional pieces.
Our first panorama experience was at Racławice Panorama in Wroclaw, Poland in 2019. We were immersed in a 360° circular battle scene and it was remarkable.
In 1911, James Simon, a German entrepreneur, art collector and philanthropist provided financing for the German Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt to excavate at Pharaoh Akhenaten’s city in Amarna, Egypt. Many of the artifacts that were excavated became Simon’s property per his agreement with the Egyptian authorities.
In 1920 Simon donated the majority of his collection to the museum, including the iconic, exceptionally well preserved and glorious Bust of Queen Nefertiti, 1338 BCE that Borchardt had excavated in Amarna eight years earlier. It is an incredible piece to see in person.
Another very interesting artifact we saw was the 30″ tall (745 mm) Berlin Golden Hat. It dates to the Late Bronze Age, circa 1,000 to 800 BCE. There have been four Golden Hats found in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries – two in southern Germany, one in western France and the Berlin Golden Hat, which was purchased from a Swiss collector in 1996 and is believed to have been found in Germany or possibly Switzerland.
The slender conical brimmed Berlin Golden Hat is made of 15.75 troy ounces (490 g) of thin gold leaf, decorated with hammered motifs and stamped patterns. It was made of a single piece of gold less than a ¼ inch thick (0.6mm) and the brim was reinforced with a half inch wide ring made of bronze.
It is believed that all four hats were used by deities or priests of a sun cult that is thought to have been widespread in Central Europe at the time. But even more intriguing is that scholars today suggest that the patterns and symbols on the gold leaf most likely represent a lunisolar calendar. The Golden Hat would have shown astronomical observations as well as calendar dates and times in both the lunar and solar calendars. It is truly an amazing and complex ancient artifact.
The Pergamon Museum, which opened in 1930, houses objects from Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia, Babylon and many ancient Islamic societies. It is famous for its impressive reconstructions of architectural structures from antiquity. Renovations of the museum are currently underway and the famous Pergamon Altar was closed. We were, however, awestruck when we saw the huge recontructed Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from ancient Babylon.
The Ishtar Gate was constructed around 575 BCE by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II and was part of a grand walled processional way leading into the city. The walls were finished in glazed blue bricks and animals, patterns and deities in contrasting brick colors were embedded into the walls at various intervals. The original Babylonia structure was a double gate – a smaller frontal gate and a larger and more grandiose secondary one.
Between 1904 and 1914, German archaeologist Robert Koldewey led the excavation of the Ishtar Gate in Babylon. Following World War I, reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate began in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. It is the smaller frontal gate but is still an impressive 50 feet (15.2 meters) high. The animal reliefs and patterned bands were almost entirely assembled from original fragments from the excavation site. They were carefully packed up and sent to Germany where they were painstakingly reassembled. The blue glazed tiles on the walls were reproduced in Germany.
The building is dedicated to Ishtar, the Goddess of love and war.
Pergamonmuseum. Das Panorama
Our first panorama experience was at Racławice Panorama in Wrocław, Poland in 2019. We were surrounded by a 360° circular battle scene and it was incredible.
As disappointed as we initially were not to be able to see the Pergamon Altar housed in the Pergamon Museum, the Panorama, was as stunning and interesting.
In the 360° spectacular panorama, floor to 100 foot (30 m) high ceiling – we were surrounded by the bustling life in the ancient city of Pergamon in 129 CE. In the center of the room visitors could climb up 4 flights of stairs gaining a different perspective from each floor. We could see and hear realistic sounds of the ancient city coming from the terraces of the Acropolis, temples and theaters, including an image of the famous Pergamon Altar which seemed to come to life. 80 original works of art including statues, painting and friezes were strategically placed against the digital background and lights slowly dimmed and brightened, replicating day to night and back to day. It was an incredible experience.
On our final morning in Berlin we visited the German Museum of Technology. It opened in 1982 and is located on the grounds of a former train yard.
Exhibitions widely vary. We saw exhibitions on communications technology, transportation technology, model ships and the history of shipping, model planes and balloons and the history of aviation. There were carriages, bicycles, motorcycles, funiculars, engines and automobiles from different time periods. Two additional sheds house 40 year old historical locomotive and railway cars.
There was a lovely model of the steamship, Savannah, that caught our eye. In 1819 the Savannah was the first Steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. However she sailed during most of the crossing, averaging only about 4 hours a day under steam. Shortly after her return to the US she was converted back into a sailing ship and in 1821, just two years later was wrecked off the coast of Long Island, New York.
No other American-owned steamship would cross the Atlantic for nearly 30 years.
The more unexpected and random exhibitions in this museum were tiny collections of world globes and objects made of ivory, sundials, hats and jewelry making – including a Faberge egg, weaving looms, art, posters and a couple of rooms devoted to a sugar beet museum.
One day we skipped the museums and spent our time exploring the key sites of the city.
We spent time walking through the very somber but excellent outdoor Berlin Wall Memorial. We learned the Russians had actually built two Berlin Walls trying to stop the flow of Easy Germans moving to West Germany. The walls were separated by a nearly 500 foot wide (140m) “death strip” secured with guard towers, tripwires and soldiers with shoot-to-kill orders.
Before the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, 3.5 million East Germans crossed the border from East Berlin into West Berlin. After the wall was built, between 1961 and 1989, 5,000 more people made successful escapes over / or under the wall. Not everyone was successful and a few hundred people lost their lives attempting to escape.
We also visited the Checkpoint Charlie border crossing, referred to as the geographical focal point of the Cold War, where the East-West divide began and ended. Only afterwards did we learn there is also a Checkpoint Charlie Museum nearby and that when the Berlin Wall was up, the ‘museum’ aided and supported many people planning to escape to the west.
Berlin’s Buddy Bears
Buddy Bears are painted, life-size fiberglass bear sculptures that are considered unofficial ambassadors of Germany. The outstretched arms of the standing Buddy Bear symbolizes friendliness and optimism.
The Buddy Bear’s motto is: “We have to get to know each other better, it makes us understand one another better, trust each other more and live together more peacefully.”
The world needs Buddy Bear’s. Stay safe.
Prost from these Berliners,
Ted + Julia
- Berlin Wall Memorial
- Berlin’s Victory Column
- Brandenburg Gate
- Checkpoint Charlie
- Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
- Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
- Pullman Berlin Schweizerhof
- Reichstag Building
- Soviet War Memorial Tiergarten
- The Red Townhall (Rotes Rathaus)
- Tiergarten Park