The Pergamon Museum – Justifiably one of the top Museums in the world

I love Berlin – Munich was fun, Nuremburg was intriguing, the Battle of Leipzig was a lot of work but well worth doing, but Berlin – ah, Berlin.

I keep thinking that I’ll round a corner and bump into Sally Bowles – or at least someone with painted nails and an over-the-top carefree attitude. Instead I’m seeing students on their way to class, well dressed women and men heading here, there, and wherever – and of course lots of tourists. There are glorious shops, bakeries with goodies that defy description, out-door terraces even in late October, trams everywhere – and a remarkable lack – at least here in the ‘old’ city – of sky scrapers. It’s a city scape without the negative aspects. I love Berlin.

And I adored the Pergamon Museum. All the guide books mention it, it’s on every list, every top ten compilation, and was even featured on Museum Secrets. But all the hoo-ha aside – nothing prepares you for the glory of this museum.

We knew the crowds might be an issue – even as off-season as we are – so we pre-purchased a 3 day museum pass for 24 Euros (12 for me with my student card). This acts as your ticket – and allows you to by-pass every line. Cool deal – save money and time. My kind of discount card! Even so – we showed up at the door to the Pergamon at 9:45 (it opens at 10) – just to be on the safe side. At the dot of 10 they opened the doors, we picked up our free (nice price point) audio guides, and walked in.

Oh My. Wow. Amazing. Astounding. Mind-blowing. Words simply don’t describe the glory of the Pergamon Altar. I had to sit down, it is that stunningly beautiful. The building was actual built just to house the Altar – and you can argue about moving antiquities out of situ all you want – this totally works.


I’ve actually been to Ephesus, 180 km from Pergamon in Turkey, and one of the other 7 churches of Asia cited in the book of Revelations – and I have to tell you – seeing the Pergamon Altar was just as amazing – without the hours of travel, the heat, the crowds, and the challenges of visiting turkey. Plus it’s in a lot better condition.


The extremely well done audio guide talks you through not only the altar itself – but through the models also presented, as well as giving you a brief over-view of the history of the find and the challenges of getting it to Berlin. Underneath the Altar in the back is a quick, but fascinating introduction to the challenges involved in piecing together the magnificent frieze that run around the altar. The entire thing – Altar, Frieze, description, Models, Museum – are simply breath-taking.



But that’s not all!

In the same building is the Market Gate of Miletus – along with one of the best preserved large Roman mosaics I’ve ever seen. You literally walk through a narrow door from the Pergamon Altar to the Gate. At 50 feet tall – the marble gate quite literally towers above your head – impossible to take in at one glance.


After admiring this feet of ancient engineering – you proceed to the ultimate expression of Ancient Building Technique – the Istar Gate.


Jaw droppingly beautiful – It accomplishes exactly the desired result – admiration for the King that could commission such magnificence to be built-in Babylon. It is impossible to face this gate without feeling the awe and fear that anyone coming into this city must have known. You literally are surprised when there are no camels, no bells, no procession.



After these 3 uniquely huge and marvelously well-preserved examples of ancient art, it wouldn’t even matter if the next door was the exit. You’d have gotten your money worth.

But of course – there is still more. There’s a copy of the Stela of Hammurabi, a huge part of the walls of the Caliph’s Palace of Mshatta, and finally the Aleppo Room. The processional way of Babylon, the huge carved half beast half men that guard the entrances to palaces in the ancient world, and even the elaborately beautiful jewelry takes a bad second place to these incredible finds.

Did I tell you I love Berlin yet? Well I do.

Deutsches Museum in Munich – less than the sum of it’s parts

Don’t get me wrong – the biggest ‘Technology’ and ‘Science’ Museum in Germany is well worth visiting – it’s just that the parts are so large – it’s hard to focus.

The Deutsches Museum is all about ‘size matters’. Unlike most museums that are content with models, or electronic aids – this Museum wants the real thing. So there’s a life-size section of a Lufthansa Passenger jet showing the typical 2 – 4 – 2 seating- with the luggage containers below. There’s a real U-boat – the last of its kind, saved from destruction in 1919 by the founder of the museum, and sliced open so visitors can see the insides – from stem to stern. There are full-sized water wheels, running of course – even a full-sized sail boat used for fishing off the North Atlantic sea. At one point, you walk into the staterooms and then onto the deck of a cross Atlantic steamer – circa 1950.

It would be impossible to list all the stuff crammed into the museum – let alone see it all. But I did have one favorite part – and it’s wasn’t even on the must see sections!

To me the highlight of the museum was the Mining section. Why – because they devoted basically 1/2 the basement to full-sized, walk thru, mines. Dark, dripping with water, dirt or wooden floored as appropriate – these ‘mines’ felt like the real thing. And since I’ve been in the real thing several times – I feel justified in saying that.


To trace the changes in mining technology over the past 200 years – they have created mines worked by hand, complete with miners using lamps to claw coal from the earth. Exit that mine – and you are in a salt mine – with life-sized miners using pick-axes to cut salt ‘cubes’ from the walls. Walk a bit further, and you are in more mechanized times – horse-drawn sleds, tracks running beneath your feet, electric lights. Just a bit further – and you are face to face with gigantic mining machines with bits larger than a human. This is a truly impressive bit of display work – it would be hard to leave without a feeling of pity for anyone who would have to earn their living under the earth!


Another truly fascinating section dealt with nano-technologies. This section used the very latest in museum technologies – you passed your hand over an object – and in German and English the object was explained in quite significant detail. Neat technology – but not the best at conveying information. Because you had to pick what to learn about – it was easy to by-pass important things, and get intrigued by something less critical. Basically a confusing exhibit – but very cool technology.

Another exhibit that couldn’t help but admire – but have to admit that the designers went so far – and then dropped the ball – was in the Pharmaceutical section. There you see a picture of a naked woman (this is Europe – no clothing, no problems), are forced to focus on her eye, from there to a piece of skin above her eye, and from there to a skin cell. You then turn right – and actually enter the cell – blown up 10000 times to make room for probably 30 visitors at once. So far – so cool – but then the designers ran out of ideas. Once in the cell – it’s back to basic explanation – mostly in German. Oh well. I did like that one section of floor looked like cell wall – I think the entire floor should have been made like that – it would have been far more impressive.

There’s also a model train layout – huge of course – HO scale – that is ‘animated’ 3 times a day. When animated, the cameras on the front of the trains are turned on – and you see the scene from the perspective of the engineer. A very neat effect.

Under the – scare the wits out of people heading – they have a huge exhibit on static electricity – which ends with a house bursting into flames from a lightning strike. Very noisy – but not something I haven’t seen before.

The very highly reviewed Physics section has every mechanical advantage demonstration tool I’ve ever seen – very hands on – very fun – but limited explanations. I was left thinking that kids probably press the buttons – pull the levers – and roll the balls – and then walk out – none the wiser.

Bottom line – Do go. It’s way cool to see the full-sized planes, boats, power tools, printing presses, telephone exchanges, even an old IBM 360 – the computer I learned to program on in 1966. Be sure to visit the Mining section – you’ll have to hike down stairs quite a bit – and then gradually work your way up thru the various exhibits – but it’s truly amazing. Don’t be surprised at the lack of English – some sections are well labeled, others have nary a word of English. And Don’t expect an audio guide. You will be disappointed. But I’d rate the Mining section alone a must see in Munich. I’ve never seen anything better anywhere – and that includes really coal and silver mines!

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons – A must visit Museum!

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons – Midland, Ontario. Not just your average Museum

Several years ago I was lucky enough to visit this Museum and Living History Re-creation, and my memories were so strong, I insisted that we go again. I didn’t have enough time to really look hard at the museum, the outdoor portion is so outstanding.

A little history as background – From 1639 to 1648, here in an isolated and seemingly abandoned part of Canada, the Jesuits established and maintained a settlement among the Wendat (Huron) Indians. Their purpose was to convert the natives of course, but the trading opportunities were of great interest as well. Eventually – attacks by the Iroquois became too much for the colony to continue, although the loss of the founders – Fathers Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant – might have been the determining factor.

This museum/living history exhibit attempts to recreate the settlement in great historical detail. The exhibit starts with a 15 minute movie – which ends with the screen opening to reveal the entry to the outdoor component. There we find an entire settlement, numerous costumed interpreters available to provide explanations and in-depth descriptions of the soldier’s barracks, the Stone Bastions, the Granaries, the Gardens, the Cookhouse, the Hospital, the Chapel, and my favorite – a non-Christian Longhouse. Still in use during reenactments, the Longhouse smells of smoky fires, and feels full of Wendat Legends and tales.

It’s wonderful.

But even better is the museum, which starts with the cobbled streets of Europe of the 1630’s. There are movies galore – available in both English and French with the press of the correct button. There’s a sideshow describing a canoe trip from Montreal to the Midlands done in traditional clothes – which means full habits for the Jesits – 39 portages, and numerous rapids. In another section, there are a series of short videos of Wendat stories and tales. The walls of the museum start off resembling the towns in Europe, and end off becoming the woods of Northern Ontario. Among the birches and pines are set the exhibits, examples of tools and axes typical of the period, books of Jesuit prayers, the bits and pieces of everyday life in Northern Ontario in 1650.

Remarkable and well worth visiting.

Korean Museum Smack-Down

The Intrepid Traveler and I love Museums – in fact that’s a big part of the reason we became Visitors instead of Tourists – guided tours never give you enough time in the Museums. We can easily spend 3 to 4 hours in a museum – we get the audio tour, we read every sign, we examine every display carefully. I mean – we love museums.

Now I know that not everyone likes museums the way we do, people don’t even like Aquariums the way we do. So instead of a blog on every museum we visited (it would take way too many days) – I’ve decided to rank them – from worst to best – and defend why.

8. Our least favorite Museum – The Sokcho Beach Nature Museum (Walking distance from the Express Bus Station). Size matters – and this one was a single large room on the 3rd floor of a building full of restaurants. The stellar attraction was a model of a dinosaur that was sensitive to movement. When you got close – the jaws moved. Marcel (age 5) loved it. The rest of the museum was a taxidermist dream come true. There was a mock-up of an aquarium – poorly preserved fish with a paper ‘sea’ background, no explanation in English, I’m not even sure there was an explanation in Korean. Most of the ‘fish’ were plaster models – I think. The next big section was a series of land animals – lions, tigers, wolves, coyotes, polar bears (?), and the like – again – either poorly done plaster models or really badly done taxidermy. The highlight, besides the view and the moving dinosaur, were a series of animal skeletons and 3 large models of sailing ships. I didn’t get the shell collection at all. For free – it was a fun way to entertain a 5-year-old, if I’d had to pay – it would have been a complete waste. Lots less fun than building sand castles – trust me.

7. Busan – Museum of Art (Modern/Contemporary) – Free. (Has its own subway stop) Modern art is always a challenge to the viewer – and while I always enter museums like this with a feeling of excitement, I often walk out wondering what the world is coming to. The current exhibit contained some really interesting pieces, and some really strange stuff. Highlight – art that ‘stripped’ the clothes off the people in the paintings when you stood in the right place. Bottom line – the price is right, and if you never go – you’ll never find out how artists are seeing the world we live in.


6. Busan – Museum – Free. (Ask for directions – its right next to the UN Cemetery – and not hard to reach.). Best parts of this museum were the life-sized re-creations – including a street from 1900 (when they first had barber shops in Korea – before that men wore their hair long and never cut it), the amazing video footage of the aftermath of the war, and some of the displays from earlier periods. Free Audio tour is a must of course. I liked the use of walk over displays too. In one, the first street car in Busan drives down the road. This museum is a must on the school tour circuit – and I got trapped between an exhibit and a stream of about 300 3rd and 4th graders walking through the museum. Trust me – I’m not sure they stopped anywhere – they just walked straight from the entrance to the exit. Tour Done. But then there was this foreign lady to see – I got hi, hello, hi from about 80% of the kids – so not only was this my personal highlight – I think I was theirs!

5. Seoul – National Korean Folk Museum – Free. (Close to the Gyeongbok Palace – walk around the outside of the Palace keeping the wall to your left – you won’t have to pay to enter) This was the very first museum we saw in Seoul, and what I remember most were two sections – a life-size traditional home, furnished as if the family had just gone out. You could see the kitchen area, and imagine the bustle as food was being prepared. The other part I thought was neat was the Children’s Museum – basically a space attached to the main museum but kept for just parents and young children. There were holes to stick your hand in, there was a large egg that you sawed in half to reveal a treasure (I’m guessing this is a Korean Fairy Tale). The kids got extremely excited to have the opportunity to do the sawing. We plan to go back with Marcel (age 5) to check this out.

4. Gyeongiu – National Museum – Free – (Ask for directions) (in 3 parts – Shilla History, Stuff found at the Anapji Pond Historic site, and Buddhist Collection). We opted for the Audio Tour (1000 Won = $1) and it was well worth it. Even though they had moved the collection into a smaller building while they ‘earth-quake proofed’ the larger museum, seeing how seriously old the culture in Korea is was stunning. On one wall is a timeline of what was happening in Korea vs what was happening in the world – puts things into perspective fast. I also particularly loved the Buddhist collection – which since we saw this following our temple stay at Haein-sa – made a lot more sense. This is also the place we met the ‘English’ Teacher/Tour guide who confused rice and lice. But the collection of Silla remains is worth seeing. Over 1000 years old and still so beautiful.


3. Busam – Maritime Museum – Free (Getting there – take the 66 bus from the Nampo-dogg subway stop). The building is worth the visit – a gigantic stainless steel Ship sailing off into the future. The exhibits were excellent as well – including a full-sized mock-up of one of the ships that the Josen rulers sent to Japan to try to keep peace – in the 1600’s. There’s a huge walk thru sea tanks – this one had a very friendly turtle. The video footage of the port of Busan in operation is definitely worth seeing as well.



2. Seoul – Women’s Rights Museum – Charge. (Getting there – it’s walking distance – sort of – from the Hongik University subway stop) This is a small, but extremely interesting museum devoted to the ‘comfort’ women (starting at age 11!) effectively imprisoned by the Japanese to ‘service’ their soldiers during the occupation from 1905 to 1945. What is most interesting is the amount of ‘evidence’ they have collected about what was happening, including numerous stories by ‘comfort’ women who have openly and painfully revealed their past. The history is shameful, but the effort put into this tiny museum is worth seeing. Highly recommended. Picture below shows the ‘memory’ or ‘butterfly’ wall outside the museum – visitors were encouraged to sign a ‘butterfly’ dedicated to the memory of one of the ‘comfort’ women and pin it to the wall. Lovely thought, eh?


1. Busam – Fisheries Museum – Free (Getting there – walk 2 minutes from the Haedong Yonggung Temple – makes it definitely worth visiting the Temple. They are connected by a red bridge and a seaside path. To get to the Temple – take the 181 bus from Haeundae Beach Station.). I liked this Museum for several reasons – there were lots of fish in tanks to look at – they made the path ‘up’ to the main area look like you were swimming thru an underwater cave, and the exhibits were very good at explaining the different types of fishing nets – without a word of English. There was even an entire section devoted to how pearls are made in oysters, another about women breathe-hold divers, and another one on harvesting abalone. Plus there were 2 interactive sections that were quite unique – one showed you the nutritional values of different foods on thermometers – the other allowed you to spin a dial and point and ‘shoot’ a fishing area off the coast of Korea. Your reward for hitting the target – a picture and description of the type of fish you’d find there. Fun museum – great location – and you can easily walk from there to one of the top temples of Busan – the Haedong Yonggung Temple. Plus – if you like fish – there were several quite reasonable restaurants nearby. A win, win, win!


The picture above is taken from the highest point in the temple – looking towards the fisheries Museum – that blue wall you can see in the middle distance. All the lanterns are strung to celebrate Buddha’s birthday – which was the day after our visit. Lovely, eh? Very peaceful scene, wonderful temple, great museum.

But it’s not all about Museums! Check out my next blog for our ratings of ‘Not a Museum’ must see attractions in Korea. Our favorite…. well you’ll just have to wait to see