The 3,300-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti is a masterpiece of Egyptian art
The exquisite limestone bust of Queen Nefertiti forms the focal point of the collection, which reopens to the public on August 13 in its new-old home at Berlin's Museum Island complex in the heart of the German capital.
The grand reopening culminates 15 years of painstaking restoration work, museum renovations and cataloguing of the collection, which was split up for safekeeping during World War II and which languished in minimal exhibition spaces in both halves of the divided city -- until now.
The event has been keenly awaited in the dusty world of archaeology because the Berlin collection ranks among the top two or three collections in the world outside Egypt itself. The British Museum, the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan in New York are the only chief rivals to Berlin's collection, which spans all eras from the pre-Dynastic period all the way through to Roman times.
Until now, however, it was not possible to see the collection at one place. And, owing to the fact that exhibition spaces were limited, much of the collection remained stored away.
Archaeologists and art historians are converging on Berlin to glimpse artefacts that have not been put on view for nearly 70 years.
Unquestionably the most spectacular item in the Berlin collection is one of the great masterpieces of Ancient Egyptian art - the 3,300- year-old bust of 18th Dynasty Queen Nefertiti.
The painted limestone and plaster bust, depicting the elegantly chiselled life-sized features of a stunningly beautiful woman wearing a unique cone-shaped headdress, has formed the cornerstone of the collection since German archaeologists discovered the bust in the ruins of an ancient artist's studio on the banks of the Nile in 1912.
A travelling exhibit
Nefertiti's enigmatic smile has long fascinated museum-goers and art historians
But as bombs rained down on Berlin during World War II, curators hastily stashed the city's art treasures at warehouses outside the city. After the war, some of those warehouses turned out to be in East Germany, and others in West Germany.
Nefertiti ended up in the west and took up residency in West Berlin's makeshift Egyptian museum in a converted guard house across the street from Charlottenburg Palace. But the bulk of the Berlin Egyptian collection remained in the east, and was on view at the Bode Museum in East Berlin until the Berlin Wall came down.
Now at long last Nefertiti returns to the newly rebuilt but anachronistically named Altes Museum (Old Museum).
This museum was a sadly romantic and weed-overgrown war ruin under the East German regime, whose leaders never saw fit to restore it, citing 'ideological' reasons for not touching a museum built by Prussian kings.
Now it is a marvel of late 18th Century architecture, and is a fittingly royal house for an Ancient Egyptian queen.
But even the Altes Museum is only temporary lodgings for her. Her original digs in the nearby Neues Museum will be ready by 2008 or '09, thus bringing her back home again.
A mysterious find
An alluring mystery has surrounded the bust since its discovery on December 7, 1912, incredibly intact and sporting vibrant colours, after lying forgotten in the sands since the tumultuous days at the close of the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaton, one of the most enigmatic rulers of all time.
In 1913, the Ottoman Empire agreed to allow its finder, part-time German-Jewish archaeologist and full-time entrepreneur James Simon, to retain possession of the bust.
Simon carted it off to Europe and displayed Nefertiti prominently in his home in Berlin before later lending it to the Berlin museum and finally donating it in 1920 to the Berlin collection.
In 1933 the Egyptian government demanded Nefertiti's return - the first of many such demands over the decades to come. One of the many titles Hermann Goering held was premier of Prussia (which included Berlin) and, acting in that capacity, Goering suggested to King Fouad I of Egypt that Nefertiti would soon be back in Cairo.
An ardent fan
But Hitler had other plans. Through the ambassador to Egypt, Eberhard von Stohrer, Hitler informed the Egyptian government that he was an ardent fan of Nefertiti:
"I know this famous bust," the Fuehrer wrote. "I have viewed it and marvelled at it many times. Nefertiti continually delights me. The bust is a unique masterpiece, an ornament, a true treasure!"
Hitler said Nefertiti had a place in his dreams of rebuilding Berlin and renaming it Germania.
"Do you know what I'm going to do one day? I'm going to build a new Egyptian museum in Berlin," Hitler went on.
"I dream of it. Inside I will build a chamber, crowned by a large dome. In the middle, this wonder, Nefertiti, will be enthroned. I will never relinquish the head of the Queen."
While he did not mention it at the time, Hitler envisioned more for the museum. There was to be an even larger hall of honour, with a bust of Hitler.
Hitler and his mad dreams are long dead. But Nefertiti continues to smile serenely. As she has for 3,300 years. As if to say, this too shall pass. And I shall endure.
[Copyright DPA with Expatica 2005]
Subject: Queen Nefertiti, Berlin's Egyptian Museum
What you need to know about German schools and daycare.
Want to move to Germany but haven’t figured out the details? Check out Expatica’s overview of the German permit system.
In part one of our two part series, we cover the driving culture in Berlin, where to park and buy gas and, most importantly, the laws.
Our comprehensive guide includes information on how to find work, recruitment agencies, employment contracts and labour law.