As can be expected, I was up later than I hoped. I had dreamed of springing out of bed and getting to the Neues Museum as the doors opened. Wasn’t to be, of course, and that’s just fine. I wish I could stop setting these high expectations for myself that are never going to come true, though. It’s really quite burdensome to let yourself down every morning. Oh well. I was soon up and dressed and on a mission.
You see, I didn’t come to Berlin only for the museum of Egyptology, I came for brown bread. This isn’t the first time I have traveled to a forigin country for bread alone. The first time I went to Paris, I was mainly concerned with tasting an authentic French baguette. I think that’s worthy of an eight-hour plane ride. I have heard quite amazing things about German bread. Most of their traditional loaves are made with rye instead of white wheat flour, so the breads have a tang. I found a bakery pretty easily, and after the most stilted conversation in the history of the German language, I was the proud owner of a dense loaf of brown bread studded with seeds of all sorts. I was ecstatic and hurried back to the hotel to cut into it.
It was fabulous and worth the trip and two euros it cost me. One slice was enough to fill me up, too, since it was incredibly heavy stuff. Nothing at all like the basic loaves we have back home that I refuse to buy. I don’t think I’ve actually ever bought bread that wasn’t artisan quality. And that’s not very often, either. I make most of my own bread. It’s simple and much more delicious than the chemically-laden shit you pick up at the shops. What is that crap anyway? It tastes like styrofoam. I shan’t continue my bread rant. I could ramble on for days.
I was off to Museum Island for a day of thrills! After a walk dodging constant construction, I was stood in the first of two of the most nonsensical lines I experienced that day. There couldn’t have been ten people waiting to buy tickets to the sites, but it took ages. I swear each person took five minutes to discuss their transactions before handing the money over. It was endlessly inefficient and I still don’t understand. The prices are labeled quite clearly in nearly every language commonly spoken, and yet all the guests needed further clarification. Irritated and thirsty, I finally got my ticket (in under a minute, mind you) and was finally in the Neues Museum.
It was wonderful. I was madly in love with it from the first room I stepped into. The museum was heavily damaged during the War, so it sat in ruins for decades until restoration was decided upon in the 80s. Instead of razing the structure to the ground and ignoring it ever existed — as we would shamefully do in America — the museum was reconstructed piece by piece with whatever remained from before. So there were many new elements, of course, but wherever a tile or a column or a beam from the old museum could be reinserted, it was. I found that rather grand.
The collections are dedicated to the archaeological history of Germany and to the huge collection of Egyptian antiquities that German teams had gathered before the practice of splitting artifacts was stopped. That’s how we have so many pieces in London or New York or Chicago or Paris. Back in the heyday of archaeology, half of what you found went back with you. Now it all stays in Egypt. It should be in Egypt, of course, where it belongs, but I can also understand the necessity of having these pieces of world heritage easily accessible for all. This is a delicate and highly touchy matter. The Egyptian galleries were truly amazing. I say with total honesty that it was the best collection I’ve seen outside of Egypt itself.
There was a particular focus on the methods of making artwork, so on display was a nice collection of statues in the process of being made. It was astonishing to see this aspect of artifacts. Far too often, museums display the grand and glorious items — for good reason — but ignore the human side of the ancient past. They were very much like us, and they worked very much like us. And I think it’s just sensational that these pieces were even on display, especially in such number.
I about lost my shit in the Armana gallery. Here were beautiful busts of Akhenaten, Tutankhamen, and all the princesses of the period. The art was wonderfully unique, which is why I’ve always been immediately drawn to this aspect of ancient Egyptian history.
And then it was time.
Time to come face-to-face with Nefertiti.
I had mild expectations for my reaction. Because I study ancient Egypt literally every day, I have become desensitized to the art. It is commonplace for me now. Hieroglyphic inscriptions still thrill, of course, but it isn’t with the wonder of mystery. Give me a couple hours and I can get it translated. So, that aspect of my love for Egypt is more of a faded memory. I had seen the bust of Nefertiti a million times in pictures. This piece is one of the most iconic artifacts of Egyptian art ever on display. It ranks up there with the pyramids and King Tut’s funerary mask. So, I knew it. I knew every crack, every curve, everything about the statue. But then I saw her.
And I will never be quite the same again.I was, I think, speechless. She is displayed in a simple glass box in a room devoted only to her. No photographs are allowed, and the crowds stare ahead at her, mesmerized. I waited impatiently, and then stood as close as I could. Her head was nearly level with mine, so you could stare into her eyes — well, the one eye that was left. It is a powerful statue. She has all the poise and grace expected, but seeing it in person, you see the strength and weariness of ruling an empire with the fanatical Akhenaten. The bust is somewhat reminiscent of the tirked expression of Middle Kingdom pharaohs. And though fatigued, she radiates power. It’s a magical piece of work, reader. You simply have to see it yourself someday. It’s worth a flight to Berlin just to see her. I mean, you could see it at every angle online. On my computer at home, I have a perfect 3D scan of the bust waiting for 3D printing to become more affordable. With those tools, you can scan in and in and in, and you can see anything you like, but it’s absolutely not the same. I’m flabbergasted.
Somewhat in a daze, I carried on my journey through the museum and enjoyed the fantastic papyrus collection and the books written by Champollion and all the beautiful things in every room. I was particularly intrigued by a room dedicated to recent Berlin archaeology where they are digging up ruins and remains from the War. One excavation took place at the site of a destroyed department store. In what would have been the storage rooms in the basement, they found masses of buttons that had fused together when a bomb went off, leaving them looking like huge rocks of minerals. It was a bit horrible, actually. We’re awful people.
Then there was this gigantic golden hat. It was sad to be worn in battle, and wouldn’t you look like an enormous douche on top of a horse wearing a three foot tall golden cone on your head?
With this museum checked off my list, I crossed over to the Pergamon, which, for reasons I don’t understand, is the most famous and visited museum on the island. I mean, it contains some hella impressive things, but I’m just biased with my love for Egypt.
To get in, you have to wait in a massive pen of other people who are all just as impatient as you. Every so often, for there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason, the guard would let a certain amount of us go into the museum. Again, irritating inneficient. But, oh well.
Annoyingly, the Pergamon Temple wasn’t open, so I didn’t get to see the huge reconstruction of Zeus’ temple. I would have enjoyed that, but to be honest, Grecian history has never held much fascination for me. I just like togas. I think I’d like to wear a toga everyday.
I think I probably wasn’t enjoying the Ishtar Gate as much as I would have normally — even though it was fabulous — because I wasn’t feeling great. I have never had a great back. My chiropractor gave me the funniest look after taking my X-ray the first time I met him. That’s always worried me. So, I’m used to never feeling the best. That’s my normal. Irritatingly, the medication I take for multiple sclerosis is known to cause back pain. I never think I’ll have any side effects or symptoms or whatever, but this one got me. So, I’ve been popping some painkillers every day, and that takes care of that. I had ran out in Paris and not thought about getting a replacement, which was a bad idea as I found myself slightly debilitated. My left side was screaming. Here’s all the joy I could muster:
So, I decided to take myself and my awful German to the nearest pharmacy.
It wasn’t too hard to explain what I wanted and I soon popped my bills. Looking forward to relief. I sat down in a coffee shop, drank my body weight in caffeine (which was hella needed) and darted back to Museum Island before they all shut down.
Next up was the National Gallery, which was nice, but I think all art museums are nice. That’s not true. The ones with modern art can go take a hike. I am appalled each time I visit the Des Moines Art Center. You have all these lovely things and then all of a sudden there is a painting that is literally a white canvas. That’s the art. It has to be a joke, but there isn’t even a Banksy signature on it. This infuriates me. And, you know…maybe that’s the point. Art is pointless, after all, it’s just something to make you feel something. And I certainly have had a wealth of emotions with oils on canvas. Don’t even get me started on Pollack. I won’t be able to stop.
I enjoyed the darker paintings with skeletons. But I’ve always liked a skeleton. There’s something comforting about knowing we’ve all got one hiding inside of us. Have you ever seen your skeleton? I had a barrage of tests, so I got to see mine earlier this year. Weird to think of it inside of you. Then I got to see an MRI of my brain. Weird to think that I’m thinking inside of it right now and it’s telling me to type these words. I’m weirding myself out. I’m overtired.
I continued to wander through Berlin because I had to leave it the next day, and I felt it was only appropriate to see just as much as I could. So, I headed off for the Tiergarten and bumped into gay pride. I said, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, and dove right in to the huge crowd of partying drag queens, leather daddies, and every other variety.It was a lot of fun. But then on the ground, I saw something that utterly moved me. It was ridiculous, like a scene in a movie. There would have been a closeup of the trash on the ground and then the camera would pan to my face for a closeup of a tear streaming down my face. It was a flag, one of the many million that people wave around at events like this. And in the center of the flag was the Jewish star done up in rainbow. At that moment, amongst men dancing around in jockstraps and broken vodka bottles, it hit me how far we have come as a people. Not even a century ago, horrible things would have happened if we even dreamed of celebrating. Hitler sent homosexuals off to concentration camps, too, so, to have such a festival in such an iconic place in the heart of what was once the Nazi regime…that was powerful. And I was deeply moved. And I was happy. And I had to get away to cherish that moment.
So, I walked through the Tiergarten…not something I recommend in the middle of the night. It’s poorly lit, and there’s nothing that will make you think of serial killers faster than being alone in the woods at midnight.
Thankfully I survived, crossed the border of the Berlin Wall
and made it back to my hotel, my feet aching after thirty-thousand steps…but they were each worth it.