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Journal for immersive art: panorama, literature, theatre, visual art | Issue 4 | English

– SPECIAL EDITION –

‘Pergamonmuseum. The Panorama’ – Interview with the Director of the Collection of Classical Antiquities
‘Art of the Gods – The roots of ancient theatre’
‘Pergamon in ancient Greece – Bergama in Turkey’
‘The Altar – A true literary discovery’
2 Editorial 3

Dear readers,

Berlin has a new PERGAMON panorama. Look out of And you could talk to them. Whether it was the question
the window on the S-Bahn between Friedrichstrasse of a good harvest or business success, travel and health
and Hackescher Markt, and you can’t miss it. And – supposedly, with the right gifts and offerings, some
after everything we have seen from him – with this, his things could be controlled. The Director of the Collection
latest panorama, Yadegar Asisi has outdone himself of Classical Antiquities, Andreas Scholl, also talks about
once again. The size of the image, of course, the new this in our interview. That people worked on the basis
sharpness of detail, and the latest lighting and sound they had to give the gods something in order to receive
technology make it a spectacular, even bombastic visual something in return. It sounds naive at first. But maybe
experience. The image on the next double page gives we should envy the Greeks a little, too. Okay, we now
you an impression. know more things. For instance, we know where thunder
and lightning come from – for the Greeks, they were the
The sensational spectacle known as ‘PERGAMON – sons of Uranus, Steropes and Brontes. But do we handle
Masterpieces from the ancient metropolis and 360° life’s big questions and the world’s evils any better? Even
panorama by Yadegar Asisi’ is a collaboration between if we no longer explain them as the opening of Pandora’s

A work so grand
the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Berlin State Museums) box?
and the artist Yadegar Asisi. The Pergamonmuseum is
undergoing renovation works planned for completion in The Pergamon panorama is a fantastic depiction of

and magnificent...
2024. Until then, the famous altar will remain hidden by a this time. And we are transported there as if by a time
giant wooden crate in the midst of the construction work. machine. The people are celebrating a festival in honour
But the panoramic image keeps it in the Berlin public of the god Dionysus. As the god of wine and pleasure,

had been returned


eye. And in this edition of ThreeSixO, we’re giving you he was also responsible for ecstasy and rapture. And
a taste of it already. For one thing, visitors can view a theatre, too. For four days at the end of winter, this crazy
spectacular panoramic image of Pergamon as a key feast gave people the opportunity to let loose without

to the world!
metropolis of ancient Greece. At the same time, the show being punished. (Today, Dionysus might be the god
exhibits the most beautiful pieces from the treasure trove of football, carnival, or music festivals.) Intoxication
of the Berlin Collection of Classical Antiquities, which are serving as religious worship. The subsequent hangover
presented in a whole new light. Not only in a technical was a matter for Apollo, the god of peace, spring and
sense. It’s truly enlightening, too. temperance. The idea of the Festival of Dionysus as the

Carl Humann 1880 origin of theatre as we know it today is something that is


After all, don’t you sometimes walk through large also touched upon in Thomas Irmer’s article. The Berlin
museums with antiquities collections and think: ah, a theatre scholar writes about theatre, art and literature
marble bust, who’s that then? Oh yes, it says on the little for international specialist publications. As mimesis, as
sign. It’s Hercules. And what about this head with its nose imitation of nature on stage, theatre was an immersive
missing? I don’t know. Ah well, I don’t need to know. And art form. People loved it. They followed along emotionally
why is the armless Venus in a high-security area? Behind with the action on stage and took it with them as personal
glass next to it: vases, vases, vases, fragments. Figures experience into their everyday lives.
and scenes. Everything lined up next to each other and
on top of each other and everything looks somehow the We also present a new book. The Altar is a German
same. And then you think to yourself: so where’s the novel by Ralf Nürnberger. It tells the story of the
café? Pergamonmuseum in Berlin in a whole new way. The
citizens of 19th-century Berlin turned the Pergamon Altar
The people of antiquity were made of stronger stuff. They into one of their most important icons and built it its own
believed in an all-encompassing devotion to the divine. museum. The book tells this story. And before you delve
Every human mood, every weather condition, every into this novel or the PERGAMON panorama in Berlin,
event – everything was personified as a deity. I hope you enjoy this issue of ThreeSixO. Happy reading!

Juliane Voigt
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5

photo: Tom Schulze ©asisi


6 Pergamonmuseum. Das Panorama 7

The Collection of Classical Antiquities


of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is among the
world’s most important collections of ancient
Greek and Roman art. Its most important exhibit is the
monumental Pergamon Altar, which is over
2,000 years old. A masterpiece of Hellenistic art,
its expressive sculptural frieze depicts the battle
between the gods and the giants. Since 2004,
Prof Andreas Scholl has been the Director

Pergamonmuseum
of the Berlin Collection of Classical Antiquities.

The panorama
In the panoramic image, the altar plays a prominent,
central role, alongside the sanctuary of Athena and
Interview with the Director of the Collection of Classical Antiquities of the the Greek theatre. As a scholar, to what extent do
you contribute to the physical structure and all the
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Andreas Scholl trappings of scenery?

AS
Of course, Yadegar Asisi makes the biggest a certain extent. But we delivered everything that occurred
contribution to the overall image. It’s his work. to us. Of course, we know scenes of sacrifice and similar
But – as in 2011 – we had a massive influence on almost things from the images on Greek vases. There are
every detail of the archaeological reconstruction. However, descriptions in ancient literature, there are long inscriptions
This is your second PERGAMON exhibition with the for this new edition, there were many points of reference that say quite precisely what needs to be sacrificed when,
artist Yadegar Asisi. The first time, back in 2011, the for approaching a critical revision of the panorama. For so you do have sources. But nevertheless, I can’t get
interplay between archaeological exhibition and instance, Yadegar Asisi has now cleared the altar’s inner from that a – how can I put it? – photorealistic impression
panoramic image proved to be a perfect combination. courtyard of blooming bushes, as he has now had the time of how it actually looked back then. But of course, that’s
In your opinion, what makes it such a resounding and opportunity to add the Telephos Frieze. This was not exactly what the panorama suggests. To the extent that
success? possible the first time around for reasons of timing. The it involves a great deal of photographic material, using
content of the small frieze, however, is very important, as it extras. That’s problematic, of course, but the much worse

AS
What fascinated me from the very beginning was is now an integral part of the tour and the exhibition includes tells Pergamon’s highly complex and completely fabricated alternative would be a sterile scene devoid of people. As
that the panorama is a medium that is capable new works by Yadegar Asisi which are linked to the exhibits founding myth, which the kings, as newcomers to ancient an artist, Asisi has fewer reservations in this regard than
of really bringing the visitor into the citadel of Pergamon. in an artistic and informative way. Greece, had experts come up with. They wanted to latch we researchers do. Using the contemporary genre figures
They’re given the whole picture – in the truest sense of the on to the oldest layers of Greek culture. Their clever from Hellenistic-era sculpture that we put together for him,
phrase – which is something an archaeological exhibition He uses a wide range of techniques and styles to create mythographers concocted this completely crazy story and he was able to reconstruct many scenes and place them
can never achieve. However, I was really surprised by these. It allows him to make a huge drawing of the then carved it into stone for eternity. The only half-preserved in the image. Of course, as archaeologists we can often
the strong emotional impact of the image. An astonishing monumental female figures in front of the Pergamon altar small frieze is now clearly visible in the panorama image in only supply vague information, such as when it comes
number of people were literally moved to tears. We were look like a reconstruction from the late 19th century. He also the courtyard of the Great Altar. Some missing parts are to the colours of ancient sculptures, which are proven to
also braced for much more criticism from academic circles. uses the latest technical possibilities for his enlightening covered by the rising smoke from the burnt offering. This have been very bright. For example, we don’t know about
But even the driest colleagues were excited. visual depictions, which interpret the works of art in their makes the overall depiction of the inner courtyard much the colouring in the full Pergamon Altar frieze. Here, we
own way. For example, a complex light projection simulates more accurate than it was before, and makes it easier could only refer Asisi to sculptures that have kept some
With this new edition, to my mind, the appeal of the the ancient colour of a marble statue that is now all white to understand. For other questions, we also received of their colour. He then took the bold step of completely
panorama has again increased significantly. The image is much more attractively than a painted plaster cast. We suggestions from the German Archaeological Institute reconstructing the altar’s north frieze and presenting it in
now much more monumental – the spatial impact of the now know for sure that almost all ancient stone sculptures in Istanbul. Pergamon’s excavation director, Felix Pirson, colour. His vast visual reconstruction of the north frieze
panorama truly depends on its size – and the vast majority were originally multi-coloured. As well as Asisi’s drawings, had very specific requests for changes which were then is now on display in the rotunda. It shows the visitor very
of people have never seen such a vast image before in there is an extremely intricately designed digital model that incorporated into the image, for example concerning the clearly how Asisi used his artistic intuition to fill in the gaps,
their lives. Today, we mostly watch moving pictures on our takes the viewer on a smooth camera journey out of the houses on the hillsides or the natural sanctuaries. taking archaeological findings into consideration. Despite
smartphones, tablets, films, on TV. Everything whooshes Pergamonmuseum and to the Pergamon citadel, clearly all the evident difficulties, this reproduction is by far the
by. Suddenly you’re exposed to this perfectly still image that showcasing the location and architecture of the Great Altar. Of course, what is much trickier and more questionable most convincing that has ever been attempted.
has an impact on you from all sides and whose powerful than the archaeological reconstruction of topography and
presence is also dramatically enhanced by the tremendous architecture is all the living action. All of the scenes in the
theatrical lighting and accompanying music. In comparison image are completely invented. But of course we tell people
to the 2011 show, we were able to create the exhibition and that, too. From a historical perspective, it is only possible to
panorama as much more of a cohesive whole. The panorama capture exactly how people looked and lived in antiquity to
8 Pergamonmuseum. Das Panorama 9

Your exhibition surrounds the panoramic image and The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin are taking advantage
shows a large number of original works of art from of this interim exhibition, which is anything but a
the Collection of Classical Antiquities, including the temporary solution, as a way to bridge the long
Telephos Frieze, which we have mentioned. There’s closure for construction works of the Altar Hall in the
also a group of life-size female figures which most Pergamonmuseum. The original Pergamon Altar will
likely surrounded the Pergamon Altar. Will there be only be available to view when its exhibition space is
something new for visitors to see? reopened in 2024. Without the initiative of the Collection
of Classical Antiquities, this show would never have

AS
We are actually showing all artistically significant come to be. What was your motivation?
sculptures from Pergamon that made it to Berlin,

AS
apart from the original of the Great Frieze, which had to stay We archaeologists do usually have a relatively
in the Pergamon Museum. The sculptures on show are matter-of-fact view of ancient times. Of
being presented in quite outstanding condition after a long course, we get excited about particular works of art too,
period of restoration. They certainly haven’t looked this good and Pergamon sculpture is some of the best that Greek
since ancient times. The new layout and lighting set-up in sculptors ever produced. However, we are most of all aware
the hall also gives lots of sculptures a completely different that we are looking after an important piece of the world’s
effect from how we know them from the Pergamonmuseum. cultural heritage on Museum Island, which needs to be
For instance, the Telephos Frieze suddenly looks much accessible to the public as much as possible and should
bigger, as its ‘Room within a Room Installation’ gives it a be explained appropriately. Here, our new building, with
completely different visual frame of reference. Now, instead the panorama integrated into the exhibition, simply gives
of being presented in diffuse daylight, it’s lit by spotlights the visitor a captivating and easy-to-grasp introduction.
that make it look uncannily vivid. There is also a daylight Without having to travel to Pergamon themselves, visitors
composition created by Yadegar Asisi, in which the ceiling are transported to the citadel in no time at all and can take
of the ‘Telephos box’ and the wall opposite change in the in the dramatic landscape as well as the most important
way they might have in natural sunlight on the citadel. This buildings in a panoramic view. Then there’s the theatrical
is intended to give the viewer an idea of how the sun’s element, which Yadegar Asisi has a very strong feel for.
constantly changing position might have affected the You can really feel that he has created sets and dealt
impact of the relief in the altar courtyard and how the image intensively with the practice of theatre. His understanding
of the sculptures changed from minute to minute. of production and impact plays an important role here,
which is also particularly emphasised by the fully theatrical
We’ve also selected objects that mutually shed light on and dynamic lighting of the panorama and the incredibly
each other and are representative of our collection. The atmospheric soundtrack by Eric Babak. In combination with
sculptures we show were almost never purely for decoration. our scientific, objective approach, this seems ideal to me,
In many cases, they had other functions and made a whereby the new presentation of the Pergamon sculptures
specific, substantive statement. The group of large female is presented and shaped in a much more compelling
figures, who now welcome all who enter, were already big way by the Asisi team’s artistic skill than in our restrained
and expensive works of art back in ancient times. At the permanent exhibition in the Altes Museum.
same time, however, they are most likely statues in honour
of priestesses, citizens or personifications of abstract Of course we hope that in taking this kind of approach, which

Exhibits from the Collection of Classical Antiquities, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Berlin State Museums), photos: © asisi
concepts. They were always intended as valuable offerings in my eyes is aesthetically very attractive, we can bring
to the gods. As agalmata, as brilliant works, they were people who would otherwise never come to a museum face
intended to delight the gods, but at the same time, they to face with classical antiquity. Many will come first of all to
were also a plea for their favour. This principle, whereby I marvel at the panorama and will then also experience the
give something to a deity and, in a relatively mechanical magnificent ancient sculptures and perhaps come face to
understanding, expect to receive something in return, is a face with Greek art and ancient culture for the very first time.
key cornerstone of ancient Greek religious ideas, and these In this regard, I would be particularly delighted to interest
things are also addressed. Asisi returned these particularly schools in Berlin and Brandenburg, as the panorama had
lovely sculptures to their original context in a large painting, a very exciting impact on children and teenagers back in
assisting with the visitor’s reading. Of course, these figures 2011. Now, the intricate virtual depictions of the Pergamon
also appear in the panorama image and the attentive viewer Altar are added to the exhibition, which are shown in
will be able to spot them there. cinema format and correspond with the viewing habits of
the younger generation. In any case, we would like to have
as many young visitors as possible!
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Text: Thomas Irmer

Holy Seriousness

The ancient Pergamon theatre, watercolour, Yadegar Asisi, 2010


The origins of
theatre in Antiquity
In 129 CE, the Greek theatre in Pergamon was already who are commented upon and chastised by them. With
over three centuries old. It was built by order of the this development, the ceremony left the grove for its own The chorus of Greek tragedy, the symbol of the mass of the people moved by
ruler Attalos I for an audience of around 10,000 and specifically created theatres. What we know as ancient
has all the hallmarks of a classical Greek amphitheatre. Greek theatre, culminating in the traditional tragedies Dionysian excitement, is thus fully explained by our conception of it as here set
The steeply rising semi-circular audience rows take of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides from the
advantage of the natural hillside (300 metres above sea 5th century BCE, is the endpoint of a long development forth. Whereas, being accustomed to the position of a chorus on the modern stage,
level), as in the famous Theatre of Dionysus beneath that touches on the roots of European theatre. From
the Acropolis in Athens, or what was once the biggest the 6th century BCE, therefore, in the Dionysian spring especially an operatic chorus, we could never comprehend why the tragic chorus
theatre of antiquity (audience of 15,000) in Syracuse, celebrations in honour of Dionysus, religious rites and
Sicily. These giant open-air theatres are the result of state ceremonies were practically interwoven, and of the Greeks should be older, more primitive, indeed, more important than
a long development whose roots lie in ritual dancing the theatrical performances established following a
and singing in honour of Dionysus, which was done in certain period of time were a key part of this annually the “action” proper... we have learned to comprehend at length that the scene,
ecstatic homage to this god of wine and fertility. There recurring event, which led to the blossoming of theatre
is no doubt that a grove was the natural setting for these and drama in Athens, but which was also the practice together with the action, was fundamentally and originally conceived only as a
rites, a sanctified piece of forest that was able to hold in other city states of the time, such as Syracuse. On
such gatherings and was chosen for other aspects of three consecutive days, four plays each were staged by vision, that the only reality is just the chorus, which of itself generates the vision
the landscape, such as the sea view. In this spirit, later a dramatist. On the fourth day, there were five comedies
Greek theatres were often clearly anchored in landscape by different writers. Four days of theatre in total. Citizens and speaks thereof with the entire symbolism of dancing, tone, and word.
and nature, which shaped their overall experience. didn’t just have free entry to this event, which also took
Pergamon, too, offers almost textbook examples of the the form of a writers’ competition. As conscientious
integration of the theatre between town and countryside. citizens, they were encouraged to go. Today, seeing
17 new pieces – albeit with material familiar from Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (1872)
The ecstatic singing and dancing developed into a choral mythology – in four days would probably push some
form of ceremony, and, if we accept the view of the birth professional festival attendees to their limits. As part
of ancient drama proposed by Nietzsche, this is followed of the Dionysia, these theatre cycles of seven to eight
by tragedy, with characters placed opposite the chorus hours (in daylight) were seen as the high point of the
12 Holy Seriousness – The origins of theatre in Antiquity 13

festival calendar – the theatre festival as an exception


from everyday life and one of the cornerstones of our
culture, which still has an impact to this day. What took
place in the Pergamon theatre, which was only built after
this flourishing period, right after it opened, is not known.
The example of the Athens Acropolis with the spacious
theatre beneath it, close to several temples, leads one
to suspect that its use must not have been dramatically
different from that of the one in the metropolis across the
Aegean. Perhaps you could see tragedies and comedies
here by writers who were esteemed by their audience
but are unknown to us today. Without doubt, this theatre
is not just one of the major works of Greek architecture
as a whole. Its position and size also indicate its key
significance within the city-state.

It doesn‘t take a great deal of speculation to imagine


how theatre on the Greek periphery was transformed
under Roman rule and particularly during the Empire.
The tradition of the Dionysia and similar festivals
disappeared and their ritual roots were buried in
theatrical culture, just as the performance of tragedies
anchored in Greek mythology vanished. Instead, a
culture of spectacle, now linked to the Roman calendar,
entered the ancient Greek venues, which were converted
for this purpose, even though the general character of
these places remained. In the case of the Pergamon
theatre, the wooden stage house was replaced with a
stone skene and the orchestra (the semi-circular stage
in front) was turned into a defined arena. Both were used
for the gladiator battles and animal baiting that were
now popular. However, there was of course no space for
the equally popular chariot racing here. Nevertheless, it
must be pointed out that theatre in Pergamon as a whole
remained the largest public events space in Roman
times, which filled up again and again with people from
different levels of society. The theatre, which once came
from nature with Dionysus, claimed its place in urban
The ancient Pergamon theatre, watercolour, Yadegar Asisi, 2010

society, and was in constant transformation. Between


an animal sacrifice, ecstatic song and celebration of the
written word as theatre’s benchmark – until today.

THOMAS IRMER
born 1962 in Potsdam, completed his degree in German and English Studies at the University
of Leipzig in 1988. After receiving the Fulbright scholarship at SUNY Buffalo in New York, Irmer
completed his doctorate at the University of Leipzig in 1994. After concluding his editorial role on
Theater der Zeit in Berlin, he is now a critic with Theater heute and has been a writer and publisher
for Theater der Zeit since 2015. He also teaches American drama at the Kennedy Institute, FU Berlin.
Since 1988, he has contributed articles on literature, art and theatre for a variety of international
specialist publications. Since 1996, he has made various TV contributions for MDR, ntv and 3sat.
14 15

Pergamon in
ancient Greece
Bergama in
Turkey

There are just under 70,000 people living in Bergama. on their overloaded wagons and ride down the streets,
As well as the usual urban concrete, which eats into the kicking up dust with their carts pulled by galloping
bare sand-coloured mountains of the coast of Asia Minor, mules. Traders hold up wriggling, fidgety chickens or
there is also a historic old town. Yet on many houses haul skinned mutton hides, trays of vegetables or flour
here, the shutters swing and creak. On side streets, the sacks on their shoulders, bent from the daily burden.
wind rolls big clumps of tumbleweed through the dust, For them, the day begins before the sun comes up. In
the low houses look out of windowless holes, where cats his café, Esref, a friendly 90-year-old man, brings the
and humans squint in the afternoon heat. Old people plates over slowly, where a big pot of wonderfully warm
doze on the steps in front of buildings. A few times a day, milk is bubbling with honey. Here, there is sweet tea and
the muezzin’s call to prayer breaks the silence. As the kaymak, hard-boiled eggs, white bread, and all kinds of
days pass, however, the blur of this chant soon becomes new things.

Bergama old town with view of the citadel, © asisi


the soundtrack of a time that is still shaped by people
and their leisurely activity. The historic market was never just a place to pick up
lettuce and grapes, but an agora, a place for sharing
Every Monday is market day. Local traders and farmers opinions, for daily discussion. And there’s thick cigarette
come into town. Horsepower seems to make an smoke in the public writing room. A man taps away with
impression here, too: the men lean back with taut reins two fingers on an old typewriter. Each word is a matter of
in their hands on colourful kilim carpets they have laid animated discussion by all present. Boys duck through
16 Pergamon in ancient Greece – Bergama in Turkey 17

the moving crowds balancing tea trays on hooks. Black ruins have always been there and will remain when they visitors is a financial disaster for the city and its residents.
tea that sparkles in the small glasses like liquid amber. themselves are gone. The simple presence of Pergamon Just a few years ago, a cable car was built to take tourists
There are public baths in a 500-year-old hammam. high above the town, however, gives it an identity. It is from the valley to the mountain, so tour buses would stop

All great things


Small bakeries, simple cafés and a few shops selling something they hold on to. The citadel’s aura makes time struggling through the cramped old town. An investment
household goods and modern toiletries. And carpet stand still in a mysterious way. The hands of the few public that isn’t paying off. The hoteliers, too, are struggling to
sellers, of course. Wealthy, colonial Europeans with their clocks, if they aren’t moving imperceptibly backwards, rent their rooms. Recently, artists and intellectuals from

are imperilled
turbo-charged capitalist misery can only kneel in shame seem at least to stand still. Do the ancient ruins guard Istanbul are discovering the liberally governed west of
before the opulence of this simple life. against pointless progress and the destruction of Turkey, settling here and renovating the houses in the
our cultural landscape? A condition of uninterrupted old town, at risk of collapse. A trip to Bergama is a wild

and fragile.
The ancient old town dates back to the 15th century and unconsciousness and mental space gives the irrational and romantic trip 100 years back in time. But it won’t be
is right at the foot of the citadel. It is the gateway to one impression of being in a space and time warp. But it’s for much longer. The town is slowly regenerating, again
of the best-known sites in classical Greek antiquity. The deceptive – the region and the people are simply poor. by itself.
odd sign points this out, as the Pergamon excavation Since the beginning of the Turkey crisis, tourists have
site is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Yet the people stayed away. Sometimes, the citadel is almost devoid of The lesson to learn is that Bergama is in Turkey.
of Bergama have an unpretentious love of their antique people. Bergama is struggling with the decline. Many Pergamon in ancient Greece. Following the expeditions
Plato in the Republic
ruins. Its sensational value is almost by-the-by. The people make their living from Pergamon. The decline in for Greek antiquities, in the early 19th century, the
rediscovery of Hellenistic antiquity began in what was
then the Ottoman province. The first cultural tourists
appeared in the town, climbed the hill, told people in
Europe about it, until archaeologists began to uncover
old Pergamon. Excavations, research and analysis are
still taking place to this day. Germans are involved, too.
Pergamon is a massive site. It was a Greek metropolis
for centuries. 150,000 people lived here. Nothing was
ever built on top. Just abandoned. But for a long time,
antiquity lay here undisturbed in eternal rest, sprawling in
the most graceful dilapidated beauty. There are columns
lying there as if they were rolled into place 1,000 years
ago, marble ruins, remains of statues and fragments are
tangled among thorns and tumbleweed. ‘All great things
are imperilled and fragile.’ Plato’s words are from a time
when Pergamon was still forming and the Greeks were
overwhelmed by the monumental nature of the Acropolis
in Athens. The Greek philosopher was speaking of the
subject of the monumental itself. All great things get
broken one day. All that remains are ruins. This can be
safely assumed. And ultimately, you collapse yourself like
a falling pillar and are almost overwhelmed by a century-
long nap as if it was a numinous ritual, lulled by a narcotic
concert of cicadas. But wait! According to mythology,
cicadas are the descendants of charmed people who
were made to forget themselves by the muses’ beautiful
song, so much so that they starved to death. In their
insect reincarnation, they can now sing without having
to eat or drink. But: they tell the muses if someone is
sleeping at noon instead of occupying themselves with
spiritual matters. Watch out for them. There’s no question
that muses and gods haunt the Pergamon ruins!
Ancient ruins in Pergamon, © Gerhard Westrich
18 19

the complicated transfer to Germany, to Berlin, where


still nobody knew where to put them. After all, there
was still no museum for them. In Bergama, however, as
elsewhere in the Ottoman provinces, antiquities were at
risk of being reused as building material. And this still
feels like a fascinating adventure, albeit fictional in many
places. Not because the men displayed the ambition of
two cunning thieves. The Ottoman government readily
gave its blessing to the export. But the fact that the altar
still remains and did not end up in pieces in the kilns of the
mischievous local lime burners or turned into doorframes
by philistines is thanks to the foresight and prudence of
Humann and Conze. Wrapped up as fictional stories, this
book honours their energy in the literal sense. The reader
soon begins to fear for every giant’s toe. This is what
creates a large part of the tension in this novel.

The Altar
With this book, author Ralf Nürnberger has succeeded
for the first time in creating a complex depiction of those
events, whose context he shares with his readers in an
entertaining way. He guides a broad cast of characters
through almost 400 pages. In Bergama, we encounter
A true literary discovery Carl Humann as an appealing fellow, who as an inveterate
Westphalian, would welcome his guests with good
German beer. A prudent and cheerful man, who watched
It’s actually a crime novel. Although, of course, it’s almost 150 years ago, and will have to spend before it is Above: the splendour in Paris and London. Prussia’s pomp and over the treasure on the citadel with an eagle eye. At
The excavation hut on the citadel.
a long way from the literary genre as such. But even ultimately finally presented in the new Pergamon Museum Also known as ‘Reichshalle’. Around 1884 circumstance only existed in the proverbial sense and the same time, at the court of Berlin, the culture-loving
Carl Humann is second from left, standing
knowing the outcome of the whole enterprise, this book – it should be ready from 2024, construction gods willing next to him in the doorway: Alexander Conze, was on the cusp of collapse. It was founded primarily heir to the throne, Friedrich Wilhelm, pulled the strings at
Spiritus Rector and Director of Excavation
is a thrilling read. How will it all end? Not only does the – are unimaginable. But we’re not talking about money. © Collection of Classical Antiquities, on military might rather than on ornate aesthetic spirit. the Kronprinzenpalais to help develop Berlin’s museum
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
author know how to leave plotlines hanging; he also It’s about feelings. About the sublime for its own sake. And even though it was largely Napoleon’s looted art – scene, bypassing the imperial majesty of his father, who,
turns thrilling conceptual corners. Yes, this novel also the whole world looked at the Louvre with undisguised despite or because of the stubbornness of old age, did
contains a love story. And yes, it does have a happy Ralf Nürnberger opens his novel The Altar with a envy. It was time for a metropolis. Not just façades. There not want to cede control. Among others, Wilhelm Bode,
ending. The blossoming love between two young hearts, resplendent military parade. On 18 January 1871, the needed to be something behind it. When it came to art, the namesake of the Bode Museum on Museum Island,
Fritze and Riecke, whose lives are touched by the events Prussian King William I becomes German Emperor. From culture and science, Berlin had a lot to catch up on. So plays a key, albeit rather unfavourable and ultimately
surrounding the hustle and bustle of antiquity in Berlin. a historical perspective, there are a range of aspects that there we have the driving force. comic role. With himself as the guiding star, Nürnberger
But this also tells us a bit about the societal and political are noteworthy about this. However, in his portrayal of has the old man seeing ghosts at the end. All these
trends of the late 19th century in Berlin. However, this this defining event of the late 19th century, he focusses Nevertheless, despite the German government’s desire events are threaded through the action. And they come
book is most of all about a marriage of two greats: quite practically on a range of incidental obstacles. The for progress, the fact that the Pergamon Altar is in Berlin together in the building of the first Pergamonmuseum.
the Pergamon Altar and the cool, couldn’t-care-less fact that the old man, first of all, is not particularly excited today in its current condition is down to an unbelievable It took an incredible 20 years before the pieces of the
Berliners. How to get these two together! about the imperial pomp that surrounds him. And then, number of chance events. These began with the shirt- frieze were actually on show in the museum built in Berlin
plagued with gout, climbs onto his horse with great effort, sleeved pioneer of this undertaking, Carl Humann, for the altar.
As well as the obsessively researched details of the and rides away from the entire meaningless parade. a transport engineer and amateur archaeologist in The people of Berlin threw wild Pergamon-themed
circumstances of the altar’s discovery, excavation and Following the capacious rear of the steed belonging Bergama, Turkey, who discovered the first parts of celebrations. The altar was even on show for a little
installation in Berlin, Ralf Nürnberger tells the story of the to his Prime Minister and Imperial Chancellor Otto von the altar frieze, dug them up at his own expense and while as part of this. Accompanied by a crazed and
Berliners’ legendary pride. Even if, to the lay person, it’s Bismarck. This removes the imperial German national sent them to Berlin with the sultan’s kind permission. joyful parade. With 1,500 people in ancient garb. And
simply about dead stone. These marble blocks, statues tripe from the whole episode. Yet it’s worth playing Richard Where, in the archaeological collection of the museum, a panoramic image showing the altar on the Pergamon
and rubble sent all layers of society into a frenzy. The Wagner’s Emperor Waltz, as he composed it for this unfortunately, nobody knew what to do with them. The citadel. The vibrations of the major upheavals of the
kind of thing people working in museums could only occasion, and this creates an immersive experience for few fragments wound up in a warehouse. Today, the idea 20th century were already palpable. Fritze and Riecke
dream of today. What modern-day Berliner has even the reader, albeit with a slightly cabaret feel. Nürnberger will surely have many archaeologists’ hairs standing on survived hard times. In this book, they are the catalysts
been to the Pergamonmuseum, except for maybe on a lingers over this epic military parade primarily to create end. for the state of the nation. The altar will not remain in its
school trip 100 years ago? a visual panorama. A panorama of the nascent imperial new Pergamonmuseum for long. But that’s another story.
This book, written by a Berliner-by-choice, helps us capital, Berlin. The City Palace is the splendid backdrop, It was Alexander Conze, the director of the royal That Ralf Nürnberger might perhaps present to us in an
Top left:
understand, probably for the first time, what it cost us Friedrich Schinkel’s cathedral, which would later be The Altar – From Pergamon to Berlin. sculpture collection appointed by heir to the throne exciting second volume.
A journey through time
to have the Pergamon Altar in Berlin. A treasure. In non- replaced by the great Berlin Cathedral, the National Friedrich Wilhelm, that first recognised the significance
A true literary discovery. 369 pages.
material terms. Yet the costs in, say, old German thalers, Gallery site, the Bauakademie, the triumphal avenue of Hardback. Novel, EUR 13.90 – years later – and ultimately directed, together with Carl
Published late November 2018
that Berlin has spent since taking possession of the altar Unter den Linden – all ultimately frippery in the face of ISBN 978-3-945305-05-8 Humann, the real in-depth excavations in Bergama and
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