• Sheryl Gwyther

#12 Berlin ... stories in fine art


I knew I would find a story amongst all that art in Berlin. The city abounds with art galleries and museums, both state and private. I've never seen such a list of possibilities. And boy, they sure make them accessible for anyone to be tempted within their doors, or up their marble staircases.

Don't be fooled into thinking, oh, no, not another museum!

The German archaeologists and scientific explorers of the 19th Century were as thorough as the British in excavating ancient sites, and either buying the treasures, or sneaking off back to their homelands with kit and kaboodle.

They have the most amazing collections here ... they would've had more too if the Allied bombers had spared these treasure houses in WW2, and if the Russians hadn't pinched much of these stolen (or 'borrowed') treasures after liberation, and took them back to Moscow. Yes, complicated!

If you visit Berlin, you must buy a Museum Pass (after you buy your Transport system pass - cheaper). For 24 Euros, over three days you can visit dozens of amazing art, sculpture, printmaking and antiquities museums. Well, you could visit them all, from ancient to modern (via the excellent public transport system) if your feet and legs last the distance.

For us, we covered eight art museums in the three days, mostly in the Kulturforum, and on Museum Island (Museumsinsel)) on the River Spree. It has an extraordinary ensemble of five world-renowned museums within steps of each other. All of the galleries and museums have excellent free, audio-guides in many languages, including English.

I can't begin to tell you everything we've seen over the past three days, but highlights must include the beautiful Egyptian Sun Queen, Nefertiti's bust - a quiet, dark room in the Neues Museum is devoted to her famous limestone sculpture, created around 1340 BC.

Then there's the Pergamon, the museum of the Ancient Near East. It has one of the world’s best collections of treasures from this region. Dominated by the imposing bright blue glazed-brick Ishtar Gate of Babylon from 6th century BC which is decorated with dragons, lions and bulls, symbolizing the major gods of Babylon. I knew about it, but has no idea of its size and workmanship.

I wanted especially to see the art from the Baroque because my novel work-in-progress is set in that period in Venice - these were the paintings that royalty, the upper-class and increasingly, the wealthy merchant class began to commission.

Two of my favourite Venetian artist, Canaletto's works are at the Gemäldegalerie at the Kulturforum. I went there twice, but couldn't find the large paintings on my second visit. Strange. I didn't imagine it because I took photos. I did ask, but obviously my German is bad, or the staff did not have a love of this amazing Venetian as I do.

I knew I would find a story amongst all that art over three days. And as usual, it was in an unexpected place in a gallery. The artist was German - I had never heard of him, nor of many of the German painters in the Altes gallery.

By this stage, I was nearly Museum-ed out, but this small painting caught my eye because it had depicted children. I walked closer.

And there she is ... a fierce little face, glaring at the bully boy who has pushed over a small boy (perhaps her little brother) and cracked his slate in two.

A perfect little moment captured in time in this 1841 painting by Ferdinard Georg Waldmuller, called, Nach der Schule, After School.