The Pergamon, the DDR, and the Jewish Museum – Such a busy day!

Tuesday is serious Museum day

We opt for an early start – grab breakfast at the Cat’s Pajama’s and head out for the Pergamon Museum. Even though we know that the name sake exhibit – the Pergamon Altar – is closed for re-hab until 2018 or so – there are still stellar things to see at this museum – most notably the gates to Ninavah – or Babalyon – depending on your reading text. Guide books and fellow travellers have warned us about long – long – long lines – so an early start is pretty key.

We end up arriving just 10 minutes before opening time – and the line is very short. We didn’t opt to buy tickets on line – we have student passes to present – and since they will get us a 50% reduction – we’re keen to use them. Note to other traveller’s – we bought the 50 Museum pass option – for 12 Euros. It’s good for all the Museums on Museum Island – plus 45 other Museums scattered across Berlin – including our 3rd stop of the day – the Jewish Museum. We’ll pay it back in savings by tonight.

So – after waiting in line, buying tickets, doing the mandatory leaving of the backpacks in the locker routine – at about 10:45 we’re finally standing awestruck in front of the gates.

These are the smaller gates – the larger ones being too big for the museum to display – and still they are massive. They tower over the crowd – and while we are hardly the visitors of yore – and there is nary a camel to be seen – it’s easy to imagine walking across the hot sands – seeing these gates raising like a mirage in the distance. Incredible.

There are several other highlights in the museum – an intact market gate from an ancient town in present day Turkey, a guest room from a house near Mecca, and parts of the wall surrounding a palace. Massive pieces of art – carefully dug in pieces out of the ground, shipped to Berlin to be lovingly put back together in rooms dedicated to their display. The Pergamon well deserves it’s reputation as a place not to miss.

From the Pergamon we walk slowly back past the Berlin Dom to the DDR museum. This tiny independantly run museum was one of the highlights of my last trip to Berlin – and it didn’t disappoint this time. Hours later we surface – having learned a ton about what life was like in East Germany – what clothes people wore, what rules they had to follow to get ahead – and just a tiny bit about how hard it was to leave.

We make our way back to the Metro – and from there we go to the last museum of the day – the Jewish Museum.

We arrive there at 4:30 – thinking we have tons of time since the museum closes at 8:00. Wrong. So Wrong.

This Museum recently added a new wing – twice the size of the original museum – and the architect created a space that is entirely unique in the world. You know you are in for a visual treat from the moment you see the Museum. There’s the Baroque original (If it’s not Baroque – don’t fix it), and seemingly completely separate is this massive steel structure that appears to have slashes across it’s face – as if it were attacked by a giant beast. This is the new wing – from above it looks like a lightening stroke, from the ground it looks and feels tortured. Stunning.

You enter the museum just as you would any other – thru the Baroque section. But after you get your ticket and do the mandatory stowing of the back-pack – things change. You are directed to start off by descending a long, fairly dark staircase and find yourself at the bottom in a space with 3 distinct paths – the Axis of Continuity, the Axis of Exile, and the Axis of the Holocaust. The Axis of the Holocaust is a dead end of course.

The Axis of Exile ends in the Garden of Exile – another masterpiece of architectual design. Walking in this space makes you dizzy and dis-oriented – exactly the feeling that the designer intended – since that is how many refuges feel when they arrive in a new land where they know no-one, don’t speak the language – and must survive.

Following the third axis takes you to another seemingly endless staircase up leading to the start of the main exhibit.

The theme of the exhibit is Jewish life in Germany in the last 2000 years – and it starts of course in Isreal with the disaspora. The exhibits follow the experiences of the Jews – thru the inquisition, the Black Death, the good times of acceptance, the bad times of rejection. It is fascinating – and big.

We are just at the 1/2 way point when they close the museum around us – offering us tickets to come back the next day. We are stunned. Where did the time go? But they are closing – and so we head home for left over Fried Chicken, involved and detailed conversations with our fellow hostel guests – including a rather serious for the circumstances lecture on the future of socialism from an intense young Russian. Exhausted but pleased – we head up stairs for bed.

Signing off too tired to think… The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

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.