Neues Museum, Berlin
When I visited the Egyptian Museum in Berlin in 2005 I thought it was wonderful. As I already had some interest in ancient Egypt, a museum with only Egyptian artefacts was all I could ever wish for. And to top it all off, they have the famous bust of Nefertiti. The only downside was that the museum seemed a bit small, even to someone with no knowledge, like me.
Move on eight years and I’m back in Berlin. I’m studying Egyptology, the museum has been reunited with its counterpart in a bigger building under a new name: Neues Museum.
Forget my remark about small; this place is huge!
I always love it if a museum has a story. In this case, as with so many things in Berlin, it’s about the Second World War. The building the museum is in was badly damaged and the museum was split up – one part went to east Berlin, the other to the west of Berlin.
The building is on the Museuminsel (museum island) which has five museums in total in a relatively small area. It was built between 1841 and 1859 by Friedrich August Stüler. In 1999 the Museum Island Berlin is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2009 the renovation is finished and the Egyptian collection is back in what is now known as Neues Museum.
The specific reason for my visit is the temporary exhibition “Im Licht von Amarna”. I have to confess this period is not my favourite and I’m not particularly a fan of Akhenaten or Nefertiti. However, this exhibition seems one of those once in a lifetime events you just don’t want to miss. And I was right.
The first room of the temporary exhibition is lit with light orange lights. Display case after display case holds items from Tuthmose III (Akhenaten’s grandfater) to Akhenaten himself and the city of Akhetaten which he founded. Everything you’d want to know about is there: jewelry, statuettes, stelae, pottery, wall reliefs. Photography is not allowed, but with a 496 page book which seems to describe every item there, why would you bother?
The exhibition is spread across five rooms and the story is told to the point where young Tutankhaten changes his name to Tutankhamen. The last room, of course, holds the famous bust of Nefertiti.
This is currently the main attraction, but the fun certainly doesn’t end there. I really like hieroglyphs, so seeing various papyri is quite a treat. Some of the texts in this collection are mentioned in the course I am currently doing – great fun to recognise and being able to place them.
There are some rooms which hold artefacts from different times and different cultures. Another confession: I am notorious when it comes to skipping anything Roman, which, of course, presents a bit of a problem when you’re interested in Egypt.
The vast majority of items is Egyptian, though.
There is so much to see you can’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed and possibly saturated after a few hours. There is also a tremendous feeling of awe. I can’t imagine the amount of work and dedication needed to reunite these museums: restoring the building, moving all the objects, setting up such a wonderful temporary exhibition.
The layout of the permanent collection is quite logical – quite a feat as the building does feel a bit like a labyrinth. The information is minimal, but the numbers are all displayed (I think I’ll be spending a week online, looking for additional info!) and an audioguide is available, if you want one.
There were lots of tourists in the museum when I was there. Not surprising in a city like Berlin. But I think there were others who, like me, went to Berlin mainly for this exhibition. I can’t blame them. It is most definitely worth the trip.
P.S. I have heard today that the exhibition is extended until 4 August 2013, so there is plenty of time to go and see it for yourself!