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Berlin Museums, Galleries and Churches


November 4, 2001

Dear Family and Friends,

Now we get to talk about the museums, galleries etc. We saw ten. The three-day museum discount card we bought listed over 60. I wonder if anyone has ever tried to hit everything in one 72-hour spree? I know we left Berlin museum-saturated but we left with many places remaining for the next time.

I wish we could put in pictures representative of everywhere we visited but that's not possible. Photography was not allowed in most places. I suppose that's normal practice in art museums, but I prefer the policy found in some of our Eastern European visits, such as St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum, where photos are allowed, albeit after a separate admission fee for the camera.

I (John) must also advise that the impressions here are mostly my own. Marianne shares many of these but she has many more of her own. She actually has her own diary and illustrated notebook of our trip but, being on paper, she'll have to share these records one-on-one.

Finally, these are again impressions, not detailed records of all we saw or thought or reflected on in each location. Everyone reacts to displays with one's own background, interest and mood. Not only does Berlin have something for everyone, some of the individual venues are immense and would prompt completely different interest from different audiences.

Here goes.


Every city tour must include a church. Berlin has hundreds but we saw just two. First, we visited the Kaiser-Wilhelm church. Most of what remains of this famous early 20th Century church is a single ornate room, underneath the bomb-damaged spire. The church was otherwise destroyed in World War II and the shell remains as a powerful reminder of the destructiveness of war. While we were inside, the entrance was closed and a priest (minister?) gave a short description of the history and meaning of the church. Even without understanding the priest's German, we heard two words we've all become too familiar with: Afghanistan and anthrax. Like us, all the people caught inside, inadvertently prayed in their own ways for peace.

Sunday morning, we were again caught inside a church, this time the massive Berliner Dom. This 18th Century cathedral has just recently been restored after many years of neglect. As we heard the unrecognizable German readings and sermon, and listened to the unfamiliar songs, we were still properly awestruck by the ornate interior and the expansive dome, over 280 feet high.

History Museums

Berlin has some of the best historical museums in the world. We chose a castle and two museums from the list.

Our first goal was the Egyptian Museum. This museum was not too large but it contains Egyptian relics that are individually and collectively amazing. The collection from digs by 19th Century archeologists Richard Lepsius and Ludwig Borchart in an ancient Egyptian capital are wonderful. Every school child has seen the sculptor's model of Nefertiti. This model was reportedly copied hundreds of times but none match this original.

Other, less famous, artifacts were equally amazing. A display of a pair of wrapped mummies included face shrouds painted with realistic faces. Marianne says these must be later additions because their life-like style was not found again in Europe for three thousand years. I say that Europeans, and pseudo-Europeans like us in the Americas, just need to consider that our culture may have spent a long time relearning what others had done and had forgotten.

Across from the Egyptian Museum, is the Scloss Charlottenburg. In contrast to the Egyptian Museum, Charlottenburg is an immense, sprawling palace. Originally built and rebuilt throughout the first half of the 18th Century, the schloss had to be rebuilt after the World War II destruction and it is complete again. Unfortunately, the building size and sprawl makes it hard to relate to and the newness of the necessary reconstruction seemed somehow to remove the historical feeling that we had in a place like the Catherine's Palace in Russia. We reached our castle-limit in just this one visit but we will recover.

Our final history museum had the scale of Charlottenburg, but where the Egyptian Museum had table-size, world-famous artifacts, the Pergamonmuseum contained building-sized memories from past millennia. The first display, the Pergamon Altar (160 BC), could be the grandest entrance of any history museum. But the grand-scale displays continued with the two-level Market Gate from Miletus (120 AD). Walking through this gate was a bit like walking back into the Roman colonial city where it was built.

However, back to back with the Miletus Gate was the even more impressive Ishtar Gate from 6th century BC Babylon. The photos don't show the size or the color and opulence of the glazed brick. It would be impossible to not marvel at the beauty and sophistication of a civilization ancient enough to rival China.

The Pergamonmuseum has more than three massive ancient gates. There are almost uncountable pillars, statues, mosaics and other architectural artifacts contemporary to the gates. Again, there was far more to see than could be digested in a single visit. "Not another marble statue, please."

But, we weren't done. The Pergamonmuseum also houses a Museum of Islamic Art. Although this particular museum has world-famous books, art, and architectural details from ancient mosques and homes, we naturally focussed on rugs. A number of 15th century rugs were on display with colors as bright and beautiful as anything, new or old, we have seen in Istanbul or US rug displays. One early 15th century rug fragment, showing a dragon and phoenix against a yellow background, is featured in most books on Anatolian oriental rugs - at least the ones I've seen. In the Pergamonmuseum, this world-famous artifact was in a small corner of a minor room of a subsidiary museum. Amazing.

Art Museums and Galleries

I (John) am completely over my head talking about the art museums and displays we saw but I'll try.

Brohan-Museum: This is a small museum dedicated to the decorative arts mostly in Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles. A dozen or more rooms were on display, each with enchanting examples of period furniture, paintings, ceramics, silverwork and textiles - including rugs of course. For fans of these periods, the rooms are treasures. Even non-fans might welcome the uncluttered, quiet space and understandable displays.

Sammlung Berggruen Museum: Next door to the Brohan Museum, the Bergguen Museum had a special display of over 500 Picasso works from his earliest to his latest periods. Like so much in Berlin, the problem is scale. Just how much Picasso can one person appreciate? The display was fascinating, but eventually, I reached my limit.

Hamburger Banhof Museum: Housed in a recently refurbished mid-19th century train station, the museum features contemporary art installations that need the open space a train station provides. By the time we reached this museum, we had promised ourselves that we would only look at the collection of American artist Robert Rauschenberg, one of Marianne's favorites. But before we could get there, we were drawn in by huge works by Germany's Anselm Kiefer. Then there were paintings by Andy Warhol including his well-known, and very large, portrait of former Chinese leader Mao. Again, another overwhelming collection.


We've categorized two museums as "other" although strictly speaking they are "history". They just didn't seem the same as Pergamonmuseum.

Checkpoint Charlie Museum: This museum seems to be a must-see, at least for American visitors to Berlin. It was the only attraction we've been to so far that was crowded - very crowded. I can't imagine the numbers during summer! The focus of the museum is the division of Berlin, before, during, and after The Wall. Dozens of escapes from the East are described and illustrated by actual equipment used in the escapes. Despite the crowds, I thought the stories were very personal, maybe because my generation was raised with news reports of each public escape. I guess the relatively small museum, with a very narrow focus, really is a must-see.

Natural History Museum: I will not endorse this museum as a must-see. It's large (so what else is new), it reportedly has world-class content (ditto), it covers an important subject (ditto ditto) but just how many bones, bugs, hides and rocks can a person stay awake for? I think I prefer 500 Picassos.

So that's it. Berlin's museums as we saw them. Believe it or not, we've only described a few impressions of a few of the city's attractions. We'd need jobs so we could live here in order to properly cover everything. Any offers?

Take care and visit a museum this weekend.

John and Marianne





















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