Patience may be a virtue, but it was never one of mine. From the time I woke up on Saturday morning in East Berlin there was only one thing on my mind other than breakfast. That was getting to the Neues Museum as soon as possible to see the famed bust of Nefertiti. Nothing else mattered on that Saturday morning. Let me be clear, this was not because I had come thousands of kilometers to see Nefertiti. On the contrary, I was rather indifferent to the idea. Instead, this was a must see for my travel companion. Seeing his reaction to seeing the bust would be worth the effort involved in traveling to Berlin. I also had a less than altruistic motive to visiting the Neues Museum first thing that morning. Once that was done, we would be free to roam around the city. Nothing excites me more these days than aimless wandering. Who knows what you might find. But first, nothing could come between Nefertiti, me and my friend.
Elements of Beauty – Bust of Nefertiti
A Novel Arrangement – Museumsinsel & Neues Museum
The Neues Museum in located on Museumsinsel (Museum Island), the famous collection of five museums at the heart of Berlin. For many, Museuminsel is as worthy an attraction as the world class cultural institutions found on it. The museums sit on an island in the Spree River. Only a handful of European cities have as many priceless artifacts located on such a compact piece of real estate. For all its cultural cachet, I have always thought the island was something of a novelty. The neo-classical buildings that house the museums are an architectural outlier. They do not look or feel like the rest of Berlin which has a wide array of architectural styles. Aerial bombardment and the Battle of Berlin during the Second World War left most of the city in ruins. Rebuilding was done with very little symmetry in mind. Confusing matters further, Berlin was divided during the Cold War and so were architectural aesthetics. Modernist, Social-Realist, Neo-Classical, Historicist, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Berlin has a little bit of everything, except for consistency. At least in that way, Museumsinsel fits in with the rest of the city.
Finding the entrance to the Neues Museum proved to be more difficult than finding our way from an outlying district of East Berlin to Museumsinsel. The entrance was not well signed to say the least. How a couple of grown men manage to get lost at twice while walking back and forth beside the building they would like to enter is beyond me. Somehow that is what we managed to do. Finding Nefertiti should not have been this difficult. Blind dates are much easier. When we did find the entrance there was a woman waiting to greet us outside the door. She asked, “Are you wanting to visit the Neues Museum?” I answered in the affirmative while thinking to myself, “Where the hell were you while we wandered around the building?” An even better response would have been to say, “Well I think we have already seen it. Would there happen to be anything inside?” The woman politely welcomed us into the museum.
Iconic Beauty – West German postage stamp with the Bust of Nefertiti
Imagination & Reality – Elements of Beauty
The problem with visiting any museum where a single artifact is your primary focal point is that it dominates everything about the visit. I am certain that Nefertiti is the reason I do not remember a single thing about the exhibition until we got close to her permanent resting place. I have a vague recollection of artifacts concerning her husband, Pharoah Akhenaten. He was infinitely more powerful than her when he ruled the Eighteenth Dynasty. The excavation of Thutmose’s Nefertiti bust turned that situation on its head. Nefertiti’s afterlife has been long and storied. She is the shadow Akhenatan cannot shake. He cannot compete with her beauty or fame.
Such was my eagerness to see the bust that I had trouble focusing on the artifacts leading up to it. My travel companion who has read innumerable books on Ancient Egypt impressed me with his knowledge of the artifacts. He knew many of them from his studies. I did my best to hide my disinterest. This was all much too famous for me. I would probably have been just as satisfied hanging out in the cloak room, languishing in obscurity. Thankfully, it did not take me long to find the bust of Nefertiti. Less than 15 minutes after stepping inside the Neues Museum I suddenly caught her eye. Specifically, her right eye which is the only one found on the bust. Nefertiti was on full display in a room all by herself.
The first thing I noticed was the bust’s size. Standing at a height of just 48 centimeters, the bust was much smaller than I had imagined. Fame has a way of supersizing everything, reality shrinks them back down to size. The detail on the bust was exquisite. It looked as though Thutmose had just finished the bust yesterday. The proportions were unlike anything I had ever seen before. The bust’s fame and the fact that it had a dedicated space made it much more impressive than if it had been among a collection of other artifacts. The bust would have still been highly impressive, but I wonder if it would have achieved the same level of reverence.
Nefertiti & me – Combustible image
Seeing Nefertiti – Emotional Control
As for my travel companion, he soon joined me in the room. I watched him as he observed the bust from multiple angles. I found his undemonstrative demeanor surprising. His face did not betray a hint of emotion. Then again, this might also be why we travel so well together. He is reserved, whereas I am expressive. His emotions are under control and mine are unrestrained. Nonetheless, I knew this moment was deeply meaningful to him. I wondered how he keep himself in check. His emotional control was just as impressive for me as the bust of Nefertiti. I was more than happy to help a good friend attain a long-sought goal. For this reason, seeing Nefertiti was gratifying to me. I could only imagine how my friend felt.
Coming soon: Taking A Bullet – Nightmare At The Deutsches Historiches Museum (Northern Poland & Berlin #10)