BERLIN 2021 | Pergamon, ‘Das Panorama’ 

Autumn 2021. In theory we could travel to other continents, but destinations we had in mind such as Japan or the United Kingdom were impossible to plan ahead. Instead we organised a rail trip to Eastern Europe, travelling to Berlin, Gdańsk, Wrocław, Karlovy Vary, Pilsen, Bratislava, Poprad, Vienna, Linz and Salzburg. By travelling to Germany, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Austria, we explored an area which was in a not too distant)past bonded together by the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and by Austria-Hungary.

Location of Pergamon.

The Pergamon Museum or Pergamonmuseum is a listed building on the Museum Island or Museuminsel in the historic centre of Berlin and part of the UNESCO World Heritage. It was built from 1910 to 1930 by order of German Emperor Wilhelm II according to plans by Alfred Messel and Ludwig Hoffmann in Stripped Classicism style.

Currently, the Pergamon Museum is home to the Antikensammlung including the famous Pergamon Altar, the Near East Museum or Vorderasiatisches Museum and the Museum for Islamic Art or Museum für Islamische Kunst. Parts of the building are closed for renovation until 2023. 

Although it seems the Altar will only be visitable from 2024.

Satues of women.

History 

By the time the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, today the Bodemuseum, had opened in 1904, it was clear that the edifice was not large enough to host all of the art and archaeological treasures being excavated under German supervision. 

Excavations were underway in the areas of ancient Babylon, Uruk, Assur, Miletus, Priene and Ancient Egypt, and objects from these sites could not be properly displayed within the existing German museum system. 

Wilhelm von Bode, director of the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, initiated plans to build a new museum nearby to accommodate ancient architecture, German post-antiquity art, and Middle Eastern and Islamic art.

Pergamon Museum

Construction began in 1910, continuing during the First World War (1918) and the great inflation of the 1920s. The completed building was opened In 1930.

The Pergamon Museum was severely damaged during the air attacks on Berlin at the end of World War II. Many of the display objects had been stored in safe places, and some of the large exhibits were walled in for protection. 

In 1945, the Red Army collected all of the loose museum items, either as war booty or to rescue them from looting and fires then raging in Berlin. 

Not until 1958 were most of the objects returned to East Germany. Significant parts of the collection remain in Russia. Some are currently stored in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. The return of these items has been arranged in a treaty between Germany and Russia but, as of June 2003, is blocked by Russian restitution laws. 

Pergamon Altar

The Pergamon Altar (Ancient Greek: Βωμός τῆς Περγάμου) is a monumental construction built during the reign of king Eumenes II in the first half of the 2nd century BC on one of the terraces of the acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Pergamon in Asia Minor.

The structure is 35.64 metres (116′ 31/32″) wide and 33.4 metres (109′ 6 5/8″) deep; the front stairway alone is almost 20 metres (65′ 11/16″) wide. The base is decorated with a frieze in high relief showing the battle between the Giants and the Olympian gods known as the Gigantomachy. There is a second, smaller and less well-preserved high relief frieze on the inner court walls which surround the actual fire altar on the upper level of the structure at the top of the stairs. In a set of consecutive scenes, it depicts events from the life of Telephus, legendary founder of the city of Pergamon and son of the hero Heracles and Auge, one of Tegean king Aleus‘s daughters.

In 1878, the German engineer Carl Humann started official excavations on the acropolis of Pergamon, an effort that lasted until 1886.

Carl Humann’s 1881 plan of the Pergamon acropolis

Despite the fact that the pyrpose-built museum was home to a variety of collections beyond the friezes – for example, a famous reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon – the city’s inhabitants decided to name it the Pergamon Museum for the friezes and reconstruction of the west front of the altar. The Pergamon Altar is today the most famous item in the Berlin Collection of Classical Antiquities, which is on display in the Pergamon Museum and in the Altes Museum, both of which are on Berlin’s Museum Island.

Pergamon Altar, photographed by Yadegar Asisi.

The Panorama

As the normal museum is not visitable, the Pergamon started ‘PERGAMON. Masterpieces from the Ancient Metropolis with a 360° Panorama by Yadegar Asisi‘. The full title is a mouthful.  

Das Panorama‘ takes visitors back to the year AD 129, showing the ancient city of Pergamon on the west coast of Asia Minor. Yadegar Asisi reconstructs the city as it was during the time of the High Roman Empire under the rule of the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117–138).

Restauration and Artistic Interpretation

“The visuals from the first Pergamon panorama have been comprehensively reworked.”, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin website says. 

“In co-operation with the team of the Antikensammlung, the artist has conceived roughly forty new scenes and woven them into the picture. An elaborate photo shoot in a Berlin film studio brought the work to completion in October 2017.”

“The parallel exhibition has been planned by Studio Asisi and incorporates approximately 80 of the Antikensammlung’s most important works from Pergamon – including the largest piece of the Telephos frieze from the Pergamon Altar. In preparation for the show, the originals underwent extensive conservation and restoration. This is especially true of the large statues of women from the courtyard of the Pergamon Altar, and the sculptures from its roof. With the exception of the Statue of Athena Parthenos from the Pergamon Library (on loan to the Metropolitan Museum in New York), all of the city’s famous sculptures are on view, including the so-called Beautiful Head, the colossal head of Herakles, portrait sculptures of the king, the Archaistic Dancer from the palace, the Prometheus group, and the Athena with cross-strapped aegis.

Different installations deepen the visitor experience through artistic interpretation. Essential elements include newly created drawings by Yadegar Asisi that illustrate Pergamon’s sculptures, architecture, and urban layout.

Sater and twink, produced by Yadegar Asisi.

The result

After entering the temporary building , you get an introduction to Pergamon and some sculptures.

The main event is obviously the panorama. It is huge and it is detailed. Asisi plays with day and night, so you can experience what 24 hours of festivities could have been. 

Because, as the audioguide concedes, many scenes are speculative. Did the Dyonisos Festivities depicted happen? And how? No-one really knows. 

You can contemplate the panorama for hours,, but we didn’t. Danny had seen the real Pergamonmuseum earlier and is less into Antiquity. And I was disappointed, honestly. 

As a former pupil of Greek and Latin courses, I felt somewhat not taken seriously. 

Danny compared it to the now popular ‘interactive experiences’ such as the ‘Van Gogh Alive’ exhibition which I saw in Zurich and Danny in Antwerp. These are great for those who are new to a subject, but too basic for more knowledgeable visitors.

I can’t wait to see the real thing. 

Bust of a man.

2021 Rail Tour of Imperial Europe

  1. POTSDAM 2021 | Schloss Sanssouci.
  2. 1945 Potsdam Conference’s Cecilienhof Palace.
  3. Potsdam 2021.
  4. REVIEW | InterContinental Berlin.

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