Sze Wey convinced me that despite all the things we had already done in Berlin, and the list is long, the visit is not complete without visiting Museum Island. For historical buffs, this enclave of museums is absolutely the icing on the cake for a city with as much history as Berlin. This is no makeshift collection of items from a garage sale. Or a collection of mannequins dressed up in period clothing exhibited with pieces of earthenware which you swore looks very much like the clay mug I broke when I was a student.
No, this was the real deal and home to important and priceless artifacts. So, as we hurried along past Berlin Cathedral to escape the persistent showers that feels like it is turning into rain, two things occupied my mind. Firstly, I should have brought a bigger umbrella instead of those travel ones that fold into the size of my mobile phone. The little thing barely protected our heads from the stubborn rain. And then when you have to keep angling it away from the wind to stop it from folding origami-like into an inverted ice cream cone, there was no part of us that was not wet in the end!
Secondly, I am well aware also that Museum Island in Berlin is huge. There is a lot of “museum” on this northern half of an island in the Spree River. In fact, there are five of them in all, built over a period of a hundred years from the Altes Museum in 1830 to the Pergamon Museum in 1930. Technically, the Neues Museum is the newest of the lot having been rebuilt and re-opened in 2009 after it was destroyed in World War II but who’s checking?
More importantly, each museum holds a treasure trove of objects: The Altes Museum, is all about Greek and Roman art objects. (After the Vatican and Athens, I think I have had my fair share of athletic male sculptures in white Carrara marble.)The Bode Museum holds paintings from Late Byzantine to 1800. The Alte Nationalgalerie then for more paintings but from the remainder of the 19th century. Hmm. . Not much to grab my interest here. Then there is the museum of ancient architecture, named simply after the Greek altar, Pergamon. The Great Pergamon altar, is preserved here. Considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, it was built in two BC and I reckon is a wonder in itself that it is still intact today. Unfortunately, the exhibit was was closed till 2019 due to renovations. So, this only leaves the Neues Museum, which contains Egyptian and Etruscan archaeological objects.
The most famous artifact held by Neues Museum has to be the bust of Queen Nefertiti. Now, she was someone I have heard about, despite my shallow grasp of most things historical. Renowned for her beauty, I only had a faint recollection of what she looks like. And as such, I certainly did not know quite what to expect. I was just happy to get out of the rain. But there is good reason why Nefertiti’s bust is one of the most iconic symbols of Egypt.
Her name means “a beautiful woman has come” but her origins is still much of a mystery. Queen of Egypt and wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, some say she is Egyptian whilst others think she was a foreigner, maybe even from ancient Syria. The exact date of her marriage is unknown but together with her husband, they set Egypt on the path of the sun god, the cult of Aten. (Interestingly, maybe uncommon in marriages at the time, theirs appear to be one with a genuine romantic connection. Egyptian artwork from their reign often show them together; riding their royal chariot to even in some cases, kissing in public.
Then her beauty and power is also well known. There are reliefs, showing her wearing the pharaoh’s crown and even in battle punishing her enemies! This is especially intriguing to scholars who say her husband, the pharaoh clearly see and treat her as an equal. But after 12 years, Nefertiti mysteriously disappear from all depictions! This has been a puzzle to many historians and we still have no answers today. Various theories have been put forward to explain this from the straightforward theory of her death to her being elevated to equal status as pharaoh and starting to dress like a man! (which to me seems to most far fetched theory of them all).
However, as recently as last year, the truth may finally be revealed if what British Archaeologist, Nicholas Reeves announced in August 2015 is true. In studying Tutankhamun’s tomb, (Nefertiti was his stepmother), he discovered markings that looked like a secret doorway. In addition, he also found structural clues pointing to possibly a hidden chamber in the tomb. If so, then he speculates that this could well be the tomb of Nefertiti! The archaeological community is abuzz about this and only know too well the significance of this discovery if proven to be true. Some are already comparing it to Howard Carters 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun. But for now, nothing is confirmed as more scanning is done and we can only sit tight and wait to see if Nefertiti will finally give up all of her secrets.