Friday, June 21, 2013

Much to see on Berlin's museum island

Our second day in Berlin took us back to Museum Island, a Unesco-recognised cluster of five repositories brimming with art. Today we would take a break from the Nazi and Cold War eras.

The Pergamon Museum is Berlin's top tourist attraction, open since 1930. Most of the artifacts were excavated and spirited to Berlin by German archeologists at the turn of the twentieth century. In the first hall we entered was the Pergamon Altar, which is quite breathtaking. It is a massive 2nd century BC marble shrine from what is now Bergama in Turkey and centres on a steep and wide staircase. Reconstructed along the walls is an impressive frieze, 113 metres long, showing the gods locked in an epic battle with the giants. It was amazing how all of this was moved and reassembled in the Pergamon.

The other impressive sight in the museum was the Babylonian Ishtar gate, Processional Way and throne hall of its builder, King Nebuchadnezzar II. The walls are covered in radiant blue and ochre glazed bricks with friezes of strutting lions, bulls and dragons.

We had our lunch outdoors on the banks of the river Spree. Seamus boldly tried the Berlin favourite, currywurst. I can only describe it as hot dog-like but made with curry, definitely not my cup of tea but it is tremendously popular here.

It was right back to The Neues Museum to see Nefertiti. When I had crossed into East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie, we had picked up an American lady, an archeologist, who had special permission to work there and to visit Nefertiti. Since that day I had always wanted to have an audience with Berlin's most beautiful woman- she of the long graceful neck and timeless good looks. I wasn't disappointed by the bust, part of yet another German archeological team's excavation of Armana built by Nefertiti's husband King Akhenaten.

We completed our visit to the museum by visiting the Trojan collection unearthed in what is today's Turkey. Many other objects on display, jewelry, ornate weapons and gold mugs are replicas since the originals were looted by the Russians after WWII and remain in Moscow to this day.

On my previous trip to Berlin I had seen the spot where Hitler's bunker once stood. You couldn't stop near the unmarked grassy knoll in a no man's land. Today we walked to the spot through an area of endless apartments and apartments under construction. Today the site lies under a paved parking lot for one of the apartment buildings. A fitting end. 

Back in the sunshine we boarded the U bahn and headed to the zoo. I had visited Germany's oldest animal park on my previous trip and was quite excited to make this visit. The park is quite compact but the animal enclosures are large and interesting for their occupants. We kept trying to find the giant panda. Since the zoo goes in loops we kept coming around on ourselves. There were lots of lovely displays including a parade of elephants aged from one to fifty.

I enjoyed watching the two families of orangutans hanging out, literally, outside. The fur on the back of the males was the longest I'd ever seen. Another of my favourites was the black panther with his beautiful, ebony, shiny coat. One really nice thing about the zoo is that you could watch the animals outside but if they decided to go into the animal houses you could see them there. We still didn't find the panda even after we followed all the signs. At the end of our visit we discovered that the panda had died last year at the age of twenty-two.

Outside the zoo we walked over to the Ku' damm. I had fond memories of this street but oh my how it had changed. This street was the glittering heart of West Berlin during the Cold War. Now there were no little pastry shops where you could get coffee or even any little shops. I had bought a lovely pair of mauve suede shoes that were sitting in a basket outside a small shoe store calling to me. Today on this part of Berlin's busiest shopping street we found the same stores as you would find in any European city. In the 1920's the Kurfurstendamm was the scene cafes and cabarets. It's in another transition now.

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