Three Six O | Ausgabe 4 | english | November 2018

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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

A work so grand and magnificent... had been returned to the world! Carl Humann 1880


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

the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Berlin State Museums)


and the artist Yadegar Asisi. The Pergamonmuseum is undergoing renovation works planned for completion in

The Pergamon panorama is a fantastic depiction of

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,

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

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 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


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


photo: Tom Schulze ©asisi


6 Pergamonmuseum. Das Panorama

Pergamonmuseum The panorama Interview with the Director of the Collection of Classical Antiquities of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Andreas Scholl

This is your second PERGAMON exhibition with the artist Yadegar Asisi. The first time, back in 2011, the interplay





panoramic image proved to be a perfect combination. In your opinion, what makes it such a resounding success?


What fascinated me from the very beginning was

is now an integral part of the tour and the exhibition includes

that the panorama is a medium that is capable

new works by Yadegar Asisi which are linked to the exhibits

of really bringing the visitor into the citadel of Pergamon.

in an artistic and informative way.

They’re given the whole picture – in the truest sense of the phrase – which is something an archaeological exhibition

He uses a wide range of techniques and styles to create

can never achieve. However, I was really surprised by

these. It allows him to make a huge drawing of the

the strong emotional impact of the image. An astonishing

monumental female figures in front of the Pergamon altar

number of people were literally moved to tears. We were

look like a reconstruction from the late 19th century. He also

also braced for much more criticism from academic circles.

uses the latest technical possibilities for his enlightening

But even the driest colleagues were excited.

visual depictions, which interpret the works of art in their own way. For example, a complex light projection simulates

With this new edition, to my mind, the appeal of the

the ancient colour of a marble statue that is now all white

panorama has again increased significantly. The image is

much more attractively than a painted plaster cast. We

now much more monumental – the spatial impact of the

now know for sure that almost all ancient stone sculptures

panorama truly depends on its size – and the vast majority

were originally multi-coloured. As well as Asisi’s drawings,

of people have never seen such a vast image before in

there is an extremely intricately designed digital model that

their lives. Today, we mostly watch moving pictures on our

takes the viewer on a smooth camera journey out of the

smartphones, tablets, films, on TV. Everything whooshes

Pergamonmuseum and to the Pergamon citadel, clearly

by. Suddenly you’re exposed to this perfectly still image that

showcasing the location and architecture of the Great Altar.

has an impact on you from all sides and whose powerful presence is also dramatically enhanced by the tremendous theatrical lighting and accompanying music. In comparison to the 2011 show, we were able to create the exhibition and panorama as much more of a cohesive whole. The panorama


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 of the Berlin Collection of Classical Antiquities.

In the panoramic image, the altar plays a prominent, central role, alongside the sanctuary of Athena and the Greek theatre. As a scholar, to what extent do you contribute to the physical structure and all the trappings of scenery?


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

for this new edition, there were many points of reference

that say quite precisely what needs to be sacrificed when,

for approaching a critical revision of the panorama. For

so you do have sources. But nevertheless, I can’t get

instance, Yadegar Asisi has now cleared the altar’s inner

from that a – how can I put it? – photorealistic impression

courtyard of blooming bushes, as he has now had the time

of how it actually looked back then. But of course, that’s

and opportunity to add the Telephos Frieze. This was not

exactly what the panorama suggests. To the extent that

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

tells Pergamon’s highly complex and completely fabricated

alternative would be a sterile scene devoid of people. As

founding myth, which the kings, as newcomers to ancient

an artist, Asisi has fewer reservations in this regard than

Greece, had experts come up with. They wanted to latch

we researchers do. Using the contemporary genre figures

on to the oldest layers of Greek culture. Their clever

from Hellenistic-era sculpture that we put together for him,

mythographers concocted this completely crazy story and

he was able to reconstruct many scenes and place them

then carved it into stone for eternity. The only half-preserved

in the image. Of course, as archaeologists we can often

small frieze is now clearly visible in the panorama image in

only supply vague information, such as when it comes

the courtyard of the Great Altar. Some missing parts are

to the colours of ancient sculptures, which are proven to

covered by the rising smoke from the burnt offering. This

have been very bright. For example, we don’t know about

makes the overall depiction of the inner courtyard much

the colouring in the full Pergamon Altar frieze. Here, we

more accurate than it was before, and makes it easier

could only refer Asisi to sculptures that have kept some

to understand. For other questions, we also received

of their colour. He then took the bold step of completely

suggestions from the German Archaeological Institute

reconstructing the altar’s north frieze and presenting it in

in Istanbul. Pergamon’s excavation director, Felix Pirson,

colour. His vast visual reconstruction of the north frieze

had very specific requests for changes which were then

is now on display in the rotunda. It shows the visitor very

incorporated into the image, for example concerning the

clearly how Asisi used his artistic intuition to fill in the gaps,

houses on the hillsides or the natural sanctuaries.

taking archaeological findings into consideration. Despite all the evident difficulties, this reproduction is by far the

Of course, what is much trickier and more questionable than the archaeological reconstruction of topography and architecture is all the living action. All of the scenes in the image are completely invented. But of course we tell people that, too. From a historical perspective, it is only possible to capture exactly how people looked and lived in antiquity to

most convincing that has ever been attempted.

8 Pergamonmuseum. Das Panorama

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 We are actually showing all artistically significant sculptures from Pergamon that made it to Berlin,

apart from the original of the Great Frieze, which had to stay in the Pergamon Museum. The sculptures on show are being presented in quite outstanding condition after a long

come to be. What was your motivation?


We archaeologists do usually have a relatively matter-of-fact






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

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!

Exhibits from the Collection of Classical Antiquities, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Berlin State Museums), photos: Š asisi



Text: Thomas Irmer

Holy Seriousness 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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

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

The ancient Pergamon theatre, watercolour, Yadegar Asisi, 2010


The chorus of Greek tragedy, the symbol of the mass of the people moved by Dionysian excitement, is thus fully explained by our conception of it as here set forth. Whereas, being accustomed to the position of a chorus on the modern stage, especially an operatic chorus, we could never comprehend why the tragic chorus of the Greeks should be older, more primitive, indeed, more important than the “action� proper... we have learned to comprehend at length that the scene, together with the action, was fundamentally and originally conceived only as a vision, that the only reality is just the chorus, which of itself generates the vision and speaks thereof with the entire symbolism of dancing, tone, and word.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (1872)

The ancient Pergamon theatre, watercolour, Yadegar Asisi, 2010

12 Holy Seriousness – The origins of theatre in Antiquity


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 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.


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 cafĂŠ, 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.

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

Bergama old town with view of the citadel, Š asisi


16 Pergamon in ancient Greece – Bergama in Turkey

the moving crowds balancing tea trays on hooks. Black

ruins have always been there and will remain when they

tea that sparkles in the small glasses like liquid amber.

themselves are gone. The simple presence of Pergamon

There are public baths in a 500-year-old hammam.

high above the town, however, gives it an identity. It is

Small bakeries, simple cafés and a few shops selling

something they hold on to. The citadel’s aura makes time

household goods and modern toiletries. And carpet

stand still in a mysterious way. The hands of the few public

sellers, of course. Wealthy, colonial Europeans with their

clocks, if they aren’t moving imperceptibly backwards,

turbo-charged capitalist misery can only kneel in shame

seem at least to stand still. Do the ancient ruins guard

before the opulence of this simple life.

against pointless progress and the destruction of

Ancient ruins in Pergamon, © Gerhard Westrich

our cultural landscape? A condition of uninterrupted The ancient old town dates back to the 15th century and

unconsciousness and mental space gives the irrational

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

of the best-known sites in classical Greek antiquity. The

deceptive – the region and the people are simply poor.

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

of Bergama have an unpretentious love of their antique

people. Bergama is struggling with the decline. Many

ruins. Its sensational value is almost by-the-by. The

people make their living from Pergamon. The decline in


visitors is a financial disaster for the city and its residents. Just a few years ago, a cable car was built to take tourists from the valley to the mountain, so tour buses would stop

All great things are imperilled and fragile.

struggling through the cramped old town. An investment that isn’t paying off. The hoteliers, too, are struggling to rent their rooms. Recently, artists and intellectuals from Istanbul are discovering the liberally governed west of Turkey, settling here and renovating the houses in the old town, at risk of collapse. A trip to Bergama is a wild and romantic trip 100 years back in time. But it won’t be for much longer. The town is slowly regenerating, again by itself. The lesson to learn is that Bergama is in Turkey.

Plato in the Republic

Pergamon in ancient Greece. Following the expeditions 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 centurylong 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!


The Altar A true literary discovery

It’s actually a crime novel. Although, of course, it’s

almost 150 years ago, and will have to spend before it is

a long way from the literary genre as such. But even

ultimately finally presented in the new Pergamon Museum

knowing the outcome of the whole enterprise, this book

– it should be ready from 2024, construction gods willing

is a thrilling read. How will it all end? Not only does the

– are unimaginable. But we’re not talking about money.

author know how to leave plotlines hanging; he also

It’s about feelings. About the sublime for its own sake.

turns thrilling conceptual corners. Yes, this novel also contains a love story. And yes, it does have a happy

Ralf Nürnberger opens his novel The Altar with a

ending. The blossoming love between two young hearts,

resplendent military parade. On 18 January 1871, the

Fritze and Riecke, whose lives are touched by the events

Prussian King William I becomes German Emperor. From

surrounding the hustle and bustle of antiquity in Berlin.

a historical perspective, there are a range of aspects that

But this also tells us a bit about the societal and political

are noteworthy about this. However, in his portrayal of

trends of the late 19th century in Berlin. However, this

this defining event of the late 19th century, he focusses

book is most of all about a marriage of two greats:

quite practically on a range of incidental obstacles. The

the Pergamon Altar and the cool, couldn’t-care-less

fact that the old man, first of all, is not particularly excited

Berliners. How to get these two together!

about the imperial pomp that surrounds him. And then, plagued with gout, climbs onto his horse with great effort,

As well as the obsessively researched details of the

and rides away from the entire meaningless parade.

circumstances of the altar’s discovery, excavation and

Following the capacious rear of the steed belonging

installation in Berlin, Ralf Nürnberger tells the story of the

to his Prime Minister and Imperial Chancellor Otto von

Berliners’ legendary pride. Even if, to the lay person, it’s

Bismarck. This removes the imperial German national

simply about dead stone. These marble blocks, statues

tripe from the whole episode. Yet it’s worth playing Richard

and rubble sent all layers of society into a frenzy. The

Wagner’s Emperor Waltz, as he composed it for this

kind of thing people working in museums could only

occasion, and this creates an immersive experience for

dream of today. What modern-day Berliner has even

the reader, albeit with a slightly cabaret feel. Nürnberger

been to the Pergamonmuseum, except for maybe on a

lingers over this epic military parade primarily to create

school trip 100 years ago?

a visual panorama. A panorama of the nascent imperial

This book, written by a Berliner-by-choice, helps us

capital, Berlin. The City Palace is the splendid backdrop,

understand, probably for the first time, what it cost us

Friedrich Schinkel’s cathedral, which would later be

to have the Pergamon Altar in Berlin. A treasure. In non-

replaced by the great Berlin Cathedral, the National

material terms. Yet the costs in, say, old German thalers,

Gallery site, the Bauakademie, the triumphal avenue of

that Berlin has spent since taking possession of the altar

Unter den Linden – all ultimately frippery in the face of


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. 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 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 Above: The excavation hut on the citadel. Also known as ‘Reichshalle’. Around 1884 Carl Humann is second from left, standing next to him in the doorway: Alexander Conze, Spiritus Rector and Director of Excavation © Collection of Classical Antiquities, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

the splendour in Paris and London. Prussia’s pomp and

over the treasure on the citadel with an eagle eye. At

circumstance only existed in the proverbial sense and

the same time, at the court of Berlin, the culture-loving

was on the cusp of collapse. It was founded primarily

heir to the throne, Friedrich Wilhelm, pulled the strings at

on military might rather than on ornate aesthetic spirit.

the Kronprinzenpalais to help develop Berlin’s museum

And even though it was largely Napoleon’s looted art –

scene, bypassing the imperial majesty of his father, who,

the whole world looked at the Louvre with undisguised

despite or because of the stubbornness of old age, did

envy. It was time for a metropolis. Not just façades. There

not want to cede control. Among others, Wilhelm Bode,

needed to be something behind it. When it came to art,

the namesake of the Bode Museum on Museum Island,

culture and science, Berlin had a lot to catch up on. So

plays a key, albeit rather unfavourable and ultimately

there we have the driving force.

comic role. With himself as the guiding star, Nürnberger has the old man seeing ghosts at the end. All these

Nevertheless, despite the German government’s desire

events are threaded through the action. And they come

for progress, the fact that the Pergamon Altar is in Berlin

together in the building of the first Pergamonmuseum.

today in its current condition is down to an unbelievable

It took an incredible 20 years before the pieces of the

number of chance events. These began with the shirt-

frieze were actually on show in the museum built in Berlin

sleeved pioneer of this undertaking, Carl Humann,

for the altar.

a transport engineer and amateur archaeologist in

The people of Berlin threw wild Pergamon-themed

Bergama, Turkey, who discovered the first parts of

celebrations. The altar was even on show for a little

the altar frieze, dug them up at his own expense and

while as part of this. Accompanied by a crazed and

sent them to Berlin with the sultan’s kind permission.

joyful parade. With 1,500 people in ancient garb. And

Where, in the archaeological collection of the museum,

a panoramic image showing the altar on the Pergamon

unfortunately, nobody knew what to do with them. The

citadel. The vibrations of the major upheavals of the

few fragments wound up in a warehouse. Today, the idea

20th century were already palpable. Fritze and Riecke

will surely have many archaeologists’ hairs standing on

survived hard times. In this book, they are the catalysts


for the state of the nation. The altar will not remain in its new Pergamonmuseum for long. But that’s another story.

Top left: The Altar – From Pergamon to Berlin. A journey through time A true literary discovery. 369 pages. Hardback. Novel, EUR 13.90 Published late November 2018 ISBN 978-3-945305-05-8

It was Alexander Conze, the director of the royal

That Ralf Nürnberger might perhaps present to us in an

sculpture collection appointed by heir to the throne

exciting second volume.

Friedrich Wilhelm, that first recognised the significance – years later – and ultimately directed, together with Carl Humann, the real in-depth excavations in Bergama and




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