Over the last two and half weeks I have been travelling through Germany, visiting Egyptian collections and observing installations at various museums around the country: Berlin, Munich, Hildesheim, Leipzig, Bonn and Hanover. (Thanks to GSK for this incredible opportunity.)
My trip was timed so that I could see the Egyptian collection reinstalled in the Neues Museum in Berlin, which opened on October 17. Despite its name, the Neues Museum is not new. The original building dates back to 1843-1855; however, it was heavily damaged during the bombing of Berlin during WWII (fortunately it was closed in 1939 and its collections removed for safety). After the war, the Egyptian collection was installed in Charlottenburg (where I first saw it in 2004) until something could be done with the destroyed building.
What was done with the ruins of the building is absolutely phenomenal! The ruins were consolidated and then completed with new construction, where you see the old and the new in each room. The new sections are very subdued, both in colour (grey or beige) and construction. The colour that remains is part of the old decorations: the ceiling tapestries representing the zodiac from Denderah or the painted murals of various important archaeological sites like Abu Simbel and Philae. Somehow it all works. And then you notice the fabulous artefacts…
Like the Egyptian collection soon to be reinstalled at the NCMA that of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin is thematic. You find a section on funeral cult with three enormous offering chapels, another of the human figure throughout Egyptian art (which is organised chronologically within the theme), the art and culture of Sudan, the art of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, and many more galleries filled to the gills with incredible art.
Queen Nefertiti has its own room, all by herself, and she looks absolutely stunning, staring in the distance at Helios, a few Classical galleries away. Egyptologists have a quirky sense of humour: Helios is the Greek god of the sun… and, during the reign of Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti, there was only one god: Aten, the sun disc!
The Neues Museum was packed with visitors who came to look at the Egyptian collection and the Prehistory/Early History collection (there are basically two museums within the building). There were endless lines of people waiting to get through the doors. It was heartwarming to see so many Berliners wanting to check out their new museum and tourists to view the collections for the first time. I hope the same for the opening of our new building.