|While on a working trip to Berlin recently, OGOVA ONDEGO writes, I decided against going to bed and opted to participate in the activities of the “Long Night of the Museums” in the hope of covering all the 175-plus museums in the German capital.
However what I did not know was that I could learn a lot about the mother continent, Africa, away from this cradle of civilisation. For in five houses on the Museum Island, otherwise known as Museuminsel in German, one encounters priceless art, cultural artifacts and other treasures of the ancient world: Egypt, Babylon, Greece and Rome.
Situated symbolically on the picturesque northern part of the Spree River Island where Berlin was founded 769 years ago and that is now on the eastern end of Unter den Linden in the Berlin district of Mitte, are the legendary Pergamon Museum, the Altes Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Neues Museum and the Bode Museum. Together, these five make up the Museum Island that has since been declared a World Heritage Site deserving preservation by UNESCO.
I was curious to find out why visitors were flocking into the Pergamon. I discovered that what attracted them was the 42-foot-tall gate of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, complete with its blue ceramic tiles and intricate designs of mythical animals. It is as if history jumps back to life and one just wants to savour it all in one stride instead of just reading about it or hearing its tales told by others
Other attractions here include the Hellenistic Pergamon Altar from a Greek temple complex and the Roman Market gates of Miletus. And this fits in the jigsaw puzzle of what one only hears about.
But one who does not enter The Altes Museum (Old Museum) “that hosts the Egyptian collection” has not seen anything yet. For how can one claim to have seen anything without focusing on the exquisite limestone bust of Queen Nefertiti?
Outside Cairo, I am told, this Berlin Egyptian Museum’s collection successfully rivals those of the British Museum, the Louvre in Paris and New York’s Metropolitan Museum. The Neues Museum (New Museum) will house the Primeval & early History Museum collection, currently displayed across town in Charlottenburg. The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) boasts wide-ranging collection of 19th century painting and sculpture. Although empty, the Bode Museum has been attracting plenty of visitors eager to see the results of several years of renovation It opened its doors in December 2005 to the public but its collections of antique and Byzantine art will only return in July 2006.
But then on this “Long Night of the Museums” that I am describing, I could not just confine myself to five museums but had to trudge along in the nippy, grey winter of Berlin to see and sample more treasure houses. They included the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) in Unter den Linden, Deutsches Technikmuseums (German Technical Museum) in Kreuzberg, Museum fur Vor-und Fruehgeschite in Langhansbau, Haus am Checkpoint Charlie in Kreuzberg, Museum of Ethnology, and the New National Gallery.
I also undertook a guided tour of the Reichstag building (German Parliament), the Berlin Wall Memorial, Berlin Underworld Society (an unusual sight-seeing tour featuring U-Bahns, bunkers and the cold war and then conclude with a visit to the Marlene Dietrich collection at the Filmmuseum Berlin in Potsdamer Platz and a colourful midnight display of noiseless fireworks illuminating the historical port of Berlin!
I benefited immensely from my cultural tour of Berlin under the guidance of tutor Susan Roth of the Berlin-Brandenburg regional centre of InWEnt.
And while we are commenting on culture, I believe I must commend black men for acknowledging one another in Berlin. It matters not whether one is from Africa or the African Diaspora, men always greet one another on the streets, in the trains, on buses and in malls. This hardly applies to black women who do not bother to give even a glance to a black man. Why this is so deserves another trip of research to Germany!