Visit to Altes Museum, Berlin

Outside the Altes Museum, Berlin, 15 June 2012. Photo: Ben Pestell
Outside the Altes Museum, Berlin, 15 June 2012. Photo: Ben Pestell

The Altes Museum now holds the Greek Art collection recently relocated from the Pergamonmuseum. The building has an imposing approach from the south end of Museuminsel to the Lustgarten, but obscured by a peculiar modern blue structure. On the way, I passed what appeared to be an archaeological dig in a building site. History, modernity, and transition fill the air today. Room 1 in the Altes Museum contains about a dozen hoplite helmets of differing design, and I paused to imagine real heads inside them. There is a great collection of vases: mythological, erotic, humorous. Hermes’ phallus – and the bird perching on it – has to be seen to be believed. In the museum’s Greek Vases book, this vase is brought under the heading ‘Everyday life’. I liked the vomiting symposiast too (‘A small naked boy holds his slightly balding head’). And upstairs, in the Etruscan and Roman art galleries, I was on the look-out for characters from I Claudius; Augustus didn’t look much like Brian Blessed. A small room on this floor contains the garten der lüste, much of which was hidden from public view until only a few decades ago. The most baffling items here must surely be the phalluses which themselves have genitalia. There is fun to be had in the Rotunda in the centre of the museum. Here a host of sculptures of significant gods is arranged in a circle, and I indulged my childishness weaving around these divinities.


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