Honours in Curatorship Berlin excursion: Visiting Museum Island

18 Jul 2016 - 12:15
In June the Honours in Curatorship students were sent on an excursion to Berlin for the Berlin Biennale. In this short reflection, Honours in Curatorship student Carly Schultz recounts the highlight of her excursion; that is, the students’ visit to Museum Island.

As we stepped off the plane and made our way down the steps to set foot on Turkish soil, the warm breeze marked the start of our European summer trip. Although our time in Berlin was only six days, the thirteen of us set out to do the impossible, which was, to see the entire city of Berlin. For the next six days we managed to see most of the museums in Berlin while walking an average of eighteen to twenty kilometres each day.

Facade Of Caliphs Palace Mshatta_resized_1The highlight of the trip for me was our visit to Museum Island. The architectural stature and magnificence of the exterior of this complex mirrors the priceless objects housed in each museum building. In the Pergamon Museum, one stood in awe of the architectural reconstructions, such as the Ishtar Gate which dates back to the city of Babylon in 575BCE and the facade of Caliph’s palace Mshatta (image, rightnear Jordan which dates back to 743BCE. The museum presented a plethora of Assyrian finds, ranging from statues and cultural material to excavated building reconstructions.

The Alte Nationalgalerie presented one of the largest 19th century art collections, which includes pictures and sculptures ranging from early Neoclassicism and Romanticism to the remarkable European movements of Impressionism and Symbolism. This large collection boasts works of art from world-renowned artists such as Van Gogh and Monet.

Altes Museum_resized_1The Altes Museum’s edifice (part of which may be seen in the image, right) may itself be considered an important example of Classicist architecture, with its monumental configuration of 18 columns and sweeping staircase. As one enters the Altes, you are met by a grand rotunda which houses a larger-than-life collection of statues of Greek gods. The immense size of the room echoes the magnitude of the statues which circle the entire room. Overall, the Altes has an extensive collection of Greek pottery, sarcophagi and architectural remnants. However, I thought the museum which stood out the most on Museum Island was the Neues Museum as it had the largest variety of historical collections. The collections in the museum included those from ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and the history of Neanderthalensis in Berlin. The Egyptian collection consists of pottery, stelae, statues and inscribed sarcophagi, and also statues of famous Egyptian rulers such as Akhenaten and Seti. The ancient Roman and Greek collection consists of cultural material such as drinking vessels, pottery, and jewellery, and of course statues which include the busts of famous philosophers from ancient Greece and Rome.

Neues Museum & Alte NationalGalerie_resized_1On the top floor of the museum was an archaeological section which focusses on the cultural history of Europe, such as Berlin. Here one is able to see the Neanderthal skull from Le Moustier, and a diorama of how he might have looked, dressed and lived in the chilling European climate. This floor also features the mysteriously beautiful “Berlin Golden Hat” from the Bronze Age which dates back to 1000 to 800 BCE, and which has a sense of wonder and resonance as it stands alone in a dark room at the end of the Archaeological exhibit.

And yet despite the extensive volume of aesthetically pleasing and academically stimulating finds on Museum Island, I found that only one left me completely speechless and in awe; and that was the bust of Queen Nefertiti. The Queen’s perfect image stands alone in the “Nofretete” room at eye level, circled by a teal wall which adds to her aesthetic perfection. The bust dates back to around 1340BCE and is from the Amarna period in Ancient Egypt. As one stands and appreciates the beauty of the queen, you cannot help but feel the weight of thousands of years of history staring back at you from her unfinished left opal eye.