The Island of Museums

One day, in Germany in the 19th century a bunch of professors got together under the patronage of Frederick Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia in order to discuss a pressing issue. They decided that all those pathetic touristy people running off on their stupid Cook’s tours to Paris and Italy had to be counterbalanced with something more *cultural*.

“Enough is enough!” they thundered. ” We cannot have intelligent people made to gawk forever at ugly Baroque palaces and 14th century architectural ignorance gone wild. We cannot allow people to get bored to tears by typical tourist-isms. We shall have tourism for history nerds, of history nerds, and by history nerds !”

And thus came into existence the Museum Island in Berlin.

I am pretty sure this is not exactly how it happened, but Museum Island today is still a history buff’s delight. I had only 2.5 days in Berlin, and we wanted to see other things too….but if I ever get to go to Berlin again, like ever again, I am so heading from the Central Station directly to the Museuminsel and buying myself a 7 day pass.

So first of all, Museum Island has five (five!) museums sitting placidly right next to each other. We could cpver only two of them, to my lasting regret, but even that was enough to leave me gasping for breath. Clearly, when those smart German profs weren’t inventing the internal combustion engine or writing justifications for invading France under the “Iron Man of Europe”, they were running around to Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Eastern Europe…and excavating, hypothesizing, and bringing the amazing results of their excavations back to Berlin. And when I say amazing I *mean* amazing. I am going to say that the Museum Insel is probably the most underrated attraction in Europe. Dear Louvre: please take note.

The Neues Museum, which unlike its name suggests is *not* the newest of the museums, was the first one we visited. The building was terribly damaged in WWII and was left rotting and unoccupied till about 1986. It only reopened in 2009.

On many of the walls, you can still see bullet marks. It feels eerie and somehow appropriate.

This museum was set up at a time when Europe was suffering from a major case of nationalism, and so it historically had (and still has) a whole section devoted to German history, or should I say prehistory, because we’re not talking about Martin Luther here, we’re talking about Arminius and the Teutoburg Forest battle, and contemporaneous stuff.


Here is a random pic of a statue of Arminius wearing no pants for some reason. Which is funny because he scared the Romans very much, so they should have been the pant-less ones…

While wandering through this section I came across an exhibit of combs, mirrors and several similar articles.Intrigued by this untypical display, I read the accompanying explanation. What it tried to convey through mangled English was that apparently, the terrifying, scary Goths and Vandals and all the scores of other tribes that harried the Romans had a thing for keeping their hair long and perfectly combed (not to mention done up in a variety of hairstyles that conveyed their status). I scratched my (untidy) head at the incongruous vision of a bunch of marauding Ostrogothic warriors pausing to carefully comb their hair between bouts of sacking cities and killing and looting and enslaving the local populace.But then, anything can happen in a world in which a Mr “Olaf the Flashy” apparently fought valiantly on Harald’s side in 1066.

Also, they apparently had a thing for golden hats. Er. I mean this thing. No idea who in his mushroom-crazed dream decided that this was appropriate priestly wear.


The Golden…uh…Hat. I guess ?


This was, however, the only time the museum’s serious history focus seemed to have taken a turn for the extremely ridiculous. The rest of it was impressive enough – piles and piles of exhibits from Ancient Egypt, a few of them that I just quickly went past, dazed by their sheer quantity.

I did not, however, run past Nefertiti.

Walking into the small room, even the most ignorant tourist does not need to be told who she is. She radiates a perfect, slightly amused calm. The perfect planes of her face make you wonder if she is really 3,300 years old.

Maybe I’m too dense to understand the charm of the Mona Lisa, but Queen Nefertiti has won me over to her camp, missing left eye and all.


From Wikipedia. Cameras weren’t allowed.



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4 responses to “The Island of Museums

  1. I know how you feel K! The Smithsonians and now the Met had a similar effect on me!

    Also, what’s up with that not-so-hat-like shape? Were you thinking the same thing that I was thinking?

  2. I honestly wonder if the ancients buried it for us to find as some kind of a joke on future generations 😀

  3. kushalkothari

    The golden. ..ahem….
    not the most appropriate priestly wear for sure 🙂

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