Christmas Day on Museumsinsel, Berlin

Wednesday 25 December 2019. The bas-relief lion featured above is more than 2,500 years old and symbolises the goddess Ishtar, one of the foundational deities of ancient Mesopotamia. It is made of painstakingly reassembled glazed tiles and, together with depictions of a dragon and a bull (symbolising the gods Marduk and Adad respectively), recurs in great profusion on the magnificent Ishtar Gate, originally one of the gates of ancient Babylon and part of a processional route into that city. The Ishtar Gate is one of the star attractions of the Pergamon Museum, by far the most popular of the five museums known collectively as Museumsinsel (Museum Island), which occupies the northern half of an island in the river Spree in the heart of Berlin. During our six days in Berlin we went to Museumsinsel twice. First we visited the Alte Nationalgalerie (whose highlights included Paul Cézanne’s Nature morte (fruits et vaisselle) and Caspar David Friedrich’s The Monk by the Sea), then returned on Christmas Day to explore three more museums, the Bode, the Altes and the Pergamon. The Bode Museum was very quiet when we arrived. We enjoyed the space and the silence as we wandered slowly through the sculpture collection, the coin collection, and the sublime Byzantine collection. There was also a contemporary exhibition by Heide Dobberkau, Bronzes Like Animals. The Altes Museum, somewhat busier than the Bode, houses part of Museumsinsel’s Collection of Classical Antiquities. We saw lots of superb Greek, Etruscan and Roman statuary in varying degrees of integrity. Finally, the Pergamon Museum. It was as busy as the Bode was not: everyone was there. Aside from the Ishtar Gate, highlights included precious Sumerian, Hittite and Assyrian artefacts, and the Aleppo Room in the Pergamon’s Museum of Islamic Art. Sadly we did not have time to call in to the Neues Museum to see the famous bust of Nefertiti (and complete the museum set). Next time.

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