Travel Diaries: Berlin (Part 3)

Last of the three part series.

Posted by Manjil Saikia on July 18, 2016

(Images are missing, due to importing from a different location. This will probably never be fixed. Sorry about that.)

Yesterday was my last day in the first trip to Berlin. In my previous days I covered almost all the touristy locations in Berlin, and left the last day to do two museums and a palace. Unfortunately, I was still a bit tired and slept late than planned, so I had to forgo my trip to the palace, I leave it for my next trip to the city. I made my way towards the city and had a cappuccino in a nice little Mexican bar. The music was quite good for a mildly sunny Sunday morning and I wanted to stay there and sip a bit more of the coffee, but I had ambitious plans of doing two museums. So, I let myself into the nearest S-Bahn station and made my way towards the Museuminsel (Museum Island).

My first museum was the Neues Museum (New Museum), which is an archaeological museum and a quite famous one. I am normally not very fascinated with archaeology like, I am fascinated by art (classical and impressionistic), so I was a bit apprehensive of going to this one. But then, they had the only extant bust of Nefertiti and I had to see that with my own eyes. I made the mistake of not booking my tickets online and had to wait in the line for close to half an hour to get a ticket, but it was worth the wait, because I could appreciate the architecture of the museum and also the surrounding museums. The Museuminsel is something like the Museums Quartier in Vienna, where they have a plethora of museums and one can book a ticket for the whole island at one go. I just got a student discount ticket for the Neues Museum.

The ground floor had a section on Troy and the myths surrounding it. The audio guide for the whole museum is included in the ticket price (6 Euros for students) and is a good thing to carry. The ground floor depicted the fables of Troy by Homer and had some interesting artifacts that were displayed. I haven’t actually read Homer’s epics and it was a good opportunity for me to know a bit more about his work and the historical context. It became clear that many things about Troy are probably myths and popular imagination. The quality of the exhibits were quite high and I had a good time.

However, the highlight of the tour was the bust of Nefertiti, the beautiful Egyptian Queen, wife of King Arkhenaten. Unfortunately, the room where the bust is located is not allowed to be photographed. This is understandable because words and pictures will never be enough to put forth the beauty and elegance of this bust. Even when it is thousands of years old, still the original colors are quite rich and lets out a stunning aura of this beautiful queen. A bust of her husband is also housed in a nearby room, but it pales in comparison  with hers. The museum has a distinctly Egyptian exhibition and they contain all aspects of Egyptian life in the medieval and ancient times. Even cave paintings and religious alters were quite a wonder to look at. I was not disappointed with the choice of my museum.

There is a high dome near a statue of the Sun God Helios (after whom, the chemical element Helium is named for obvious reasons). The dome is a marvelous piece of architecture and the picture that I took doesn’t do it any justice. Conspicuously missing from the statue of Helios is his male reproductive organ, testament to the censorship of the church in the days gone by. It would be too much time and words to describe everything that I saw in the museum, but I would mention just a few other things.

Another important exhibit in the museum was the Berlin Golden Hat, which was used by scholars and people who could calculate celestial times, the hat had a nice mechanism by which the wearer could calculate dates for the next important celestial event. This was pretty cool to see, I knew about such things from my childhood fascination with astronomy, but it was very exciting to see this in reality. There are only four such hats in survival today. There were other exhibitions on Sudanese pyramids and life in Sudan. Also, another interesting exhibition room was about the different ages in human history, from the metal ages with wares being displayed about them to the evolution of man, with even a Neanderthal featuring in the exhibit. I only wish I had some more time to look at all of the wonderful things on display. I would highly recommend this museum for anyone interested in human society and diaspora.

The second choice of the museum was not clear to me, I had narrowed it down to two: the East Side Gallery and the Deutsches Historiches Museum (German History Museum) (DHM). I decided to go to the DHM because it was near the Museuminsel and also because it was highly recommended by a friend who had studied in Berlin for a few years, The museum is quite large and I decided just to see the temporary exhibitions in display, figuring that I could go to the permanent display when I return to the city later. The DHM had a photography exhibition on the cold war, a sticker exhibition about propaganda slogans and a display of the cultural diversity of Germany in the temporary section.

I had been to a few photography exhibitions in India and I never really enjoyed those. I thought for some time that perhaps I lacked the artistic imagination to appreciate them. But then I went to a photography exhibition in the Albertina in Vienna and realized that I did not like the exhibitions in India because they were not good. The Albertina gave me a new dimension on art and I really enjoyed the photography exhibition. But the exhibition on the cold war that I saw yesterday at the DHM took my breath away, literally. It was by far the best photography exhibition I have ever seen. Pictures were not allowed inside any of the halls at the DHM, but I am sure my memory will serve me for a long time if I want to remember what I saw there. In particular there was one image of the end of a Russian bunker tunnel which captivated me. I spent a considerable amount of time looking at the photograph. The photos were by Martin Roemers and he is a genius to say the least. They beautifully capture the ethos of war and the survival instinct of the people in such times.

The other two exhibitions were equally good, but I was so enamored by the photos that I did not really soak in everything from them. The exhibition on propaganda stickers was an eye opener. Stickers from the 19th century to 2015 feature in the exhibit and one can see how much hatred the world has accumulated so far for various divisions. This exhibit reminded me of a Nazi symbol that I saw very recently near my office in Vienna. Thankfully it has been removed now. The exhibition on the cultural diversity of Germany featured all the major races and religions that have called Germany there home. The exhibition was entirely in German and it took me some effort to understand the basic points. By this time, time was running short and I had to make my way back.

On my way back, I chanced upon the Federal German Republic’s Memorial to the sufferers of war and tyranny. It was a solitary statue which beautifully captured human suffering, in my opinion. The place is very near to the DHM and is quite easy to miss. I am glad I went on a whim inside the building. I also had a short detour to the Unter den Linden, a boulevard in the city. It was raining a bit, and I enjoyed walking among the shady green trees. This made for a perfect end to my Berlin sightseeing for the time being.

Whenever I visit any museum in Europe, I am amazed by the sheer amount of hard work and dedication they put into preserving the past. This saddens me a bit when I compare the situation with Assam. It is high time that we learn good and modern ways of preserving the past, otherwise even with such a rich cultural heritage that we have; the next generation may not even be privy to that knowledge, let alone see them firsthand.

The Berlin visit was quite good one, and I love the city. This is a stark contrast to my original opinion of the city. I am definitely going to visit the city again and finish my tour of the DHM as well as visit a few more museums. Even at the end of the trip, the Berlin Hauptbanhof (Berlin Central Train Station) amazed me. I had never seen such a huge station before. The previous one that I have seen in a scale comparable to the Berlin Hbf is the Wien Hbf, but the Berlin one will give Vienna a run for its money. I even enjoyed a cup of coffee in the Einstein Kaffe, near the entrance of the station. Berlin has definitely made an impression on me, and I hope my planned German visits in the next few months to two other cities will be as fruitful and interesting as this one.

The next travel plans for me are to Croatia, very soon. I hope I will have as much to write about Croatia as I had about Berlin.

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