When it comes to stealing really large things from ancient civilizations there is a great deal of competition. The English have the British Museum filled with pilfered artifacts that they refuse to return, the French have done a nice job of grabbing old stuff and hiding it in the Louvre basement, but the Germans really set the bar when they filled the Pergamon Museum with some really, really big relics from the ancient world.
When I first read about the Pergamon Altar I assumed that it would be a reconstruction of bits and pieces found scattered on some desert landscape, but it is not, it is the whole thing. It is massive. It is not only massive, it is nearly complete and preserved.
I have moved a few pianos in my lifetime, but never have I seen something this big inside a building. I wondered how they got the whole thing in the room, but I am sure I don’t really want to know who was forced to put the Altar together. I doubt it was a union labor job.
I am not one to suggest returning ancient artifacts to the original countries, I like being able to see the great works of the ancient world without getting my shoes dusty, but when I saw the Pergamon Altar I did think a line had been crossed. Berlin has enough historical sites without stealing a few from other countries, but since my entire country was stolen from the Native Americans I doubt there is a moral high ground I can stand upon. At least that was my thinking until I left the Altar room and saw this:
Yeah, those are the Gates of Ishtar from the ancient city of Babylon. Unfortunately when they set up the Gates in the Pergamon they were not considering how I might get a photo of the entire set up. So instead I walked around in a daze snapping photos of other tourists taking photos.
The Gates of Ishtar were more impressive than the Altar. The ancient city of Babylon in my head was one of those mythical places like Troy or Mordor, but there it was, the actual gates that people walked through thousands of years ago. The color of the tiles was one of the most surprising aspects of the gates. I have always had a stonewashed vision of the past, but here the colors were vivid and shockingly detailed. I cannot imagine how impressive the gates were to the ancient travelers visiting Babylon.
So if you are in Berlin and have a few hours to kill between eating Berliner doners, drop by the Pergamon Museum, it is one of my favorite places.