Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Berlin—July 18

Today we went to the world-famous Pergamon museum. Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, German archaeologists were all over Middle East, North Africa, and the Holy Land. (That setting for the first Indiana Jones movie is not far off the mark!) They shipped back to Germany a vast hoard of treasures removed from ancient sites. From 1910 to 1930, a “universal museum of human culture, from ancient to modern times”, was built in Berlin.

There are over 270,00 artifacts in the museum today. Most of these are from ancient Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian sites as well as classical Greek and Roman eras.

The Classical Antiquities section holds the mammoth IMAX screen recreation of the city of Pergamon as well as friezes, temple sections, statuary, and the altar to Athena removed from the dig at that site. (You remember Pergamon [or Pergamum] from the seven letters to the churches in The Book of the Revelation.) The Pergamon altar (from 180-160 BC) is a towering piece of Hellenistic art. It depicts the battle of Olympian gods against the giants and appears largely intact in the display hall.

This section also has a collection of statuary and other artifacts from Roman culture, particularly from the time of the Emperor Trajan. This display also holds the Market Gate from the city of Miletus (a place Paul visited on his missionary journey.) This is Roman architecture from the early 2nd century.

The Collection of the Ancient Near East contained articles dating back through 6,000 years of cultural history in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Anatolia. Here we saw the Ishtar gates (life size, inside the building!). These are from the time of Nebuchadnezzar II, 6th century BC. Here also are amazing cuneiform writings (Uruk, 4th mill. BC), the stele of Esarhaddon, tablets from Tel El-Amarna (I remember reading about these in school but never thought I would see them!), and a full-sized reproduction of the Code of Hammurabi (the original is in the Louvre.)

This was an amazing display. I have long had an interest in biblical archaeology and ancient history. I was reminded, again, just how much of the history of that part of the world is directly connected to biblical history.

To see these things was a great experience in itself. Walking through those monuments was not only a testimony to man’s creative genius but it was a confirmation of another fact as well: man has always been looking up, looking for God. Sometimes man has confused himself with God. He has often come up with confusing blends of men and gods. He has continually made images designed to point to or portray God.

The Book tells us that God finally had to come to man to clear things up.

Speaking of looking up to find God, after the museum we made a stop at the Berliner Dom, the Berlin Cathedral. It is monumental, literally. The congregation has been in existence since 1608 when the church was named the “chief parish church of the area.” This building was built from 1894 to 1905 by Kaiser Wilhelm II, in high Renaissance style. 

In May, 1944, a firebomb hit the dome and damaged the building severely. The dome burned down and a large part of the interior and the tombs in the crypt were damaged. Rebuilding began in 1975. The baptism chapel opened in 1980; the main church was rededicated in 1993.

It is an awesome structure. The Kaiser’s Stairwell, the stairs by which the emperor and entourage entered their box, is red marble; candleholders and chandelier are of gilded bronze and golden glass. I can only imagine the challenge faced by the king when he attempted to approach the Lord with a humble heart. And you should see his burial monument—the photos do not do it justice.

The sanctuary of this Protestant church is ornate to the point of ostentatious (that is not just my American, simple, free-church sentiment speaking.) The organ is huge—7,269 pipes and 4 manuals. The altar is lavish, the windows are magnificent. The soaring dome certainly draws you up; the triptych painting showing scenes from the life of Christ is marvelous. The pulpit is the most ornate we have seen yet.

In addition, the sculptures of the four Protestant Reformers (Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli and Calvin) are prominent. The Kaiser’s statue and coat of arms (including both a dove and the family crest) show the close connection between church and state.

This church is clearly “Germanic.” It is big, bold, powerful, pretentious, and aggressive. It is the symbol of the power of the ruler. It is a symbol of the pride of the people. (It remained open during the Communist time because it was so big and prominent.)

I wonder about something. It may be purely anecdotal on this trip in terms of the churches we have visited but it seems to me that the further north we have gone, the churches look more “Catholic.” By that I mean ornate and possessing of icons, statuary, paintings, and lighting.

In Zurich and Bern, the Protestant churches influenced most closely by Zwingli were stark and sterile. All vestiges of Catholicism had been removed. In Basel, there was only a little more in terms of décor. St. Peter’s church in Heidelberg had more icons; the altar was much more ornate. In Torgau, even Luther’s chapel had a crucifix, the pulpit was painted, and Mary made an appearance. The Berliner Dom could just as well have been one of the big catholic cathedrals only with Protestant Reformer statues added. The Wittenberg church contained many of the same accouterments and lots of Luther and Melanchthon. In Münster, most of the churches have returned to Catholic churches.

Don’t know if this is accurate or what it means if it is. Just thinking . . . . .

Inside the Pergamon museum is the full, life-size frieze from the temple at Pergamon. Archaeologists dug this up and shipped it back to Germany. It is recreated here. The sheer size and detail are breathtaking.

This is front of the temple to Athena in Pergamon.

In the museum a nod is given to the place of Pergamon (or Pergamum) in the Bible. Interesting speculation on what "the temple of Satan" referred to in Scripture is--but it just might be the temple in which we are standing.

Another view of the entrance to the temple--so you can get a sense of its size.

The Gate of Ishtar, from Babylon. Again, reconstructed in the museum hall in full size and detail showing mythical creatures and lions, displaying the power and majesty of the gods and the empire. During the time of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon.

Tablets from Tel El-Amarna, discovered in 1988. Amarna was located in Egypt near the Nile River. The tablets are mostly written in Akkadian. Some contain Babylonian cuneiform writing. Some of them warn the pharaoh of an impending invasion by the "Habiru" from Trans-Jordan. Many of them were written during the time of Moses. They mention "Canaan" numerous times and give some evidence of the trustworthiness of the book of Judges. These 400 or so tablets have been of immense value in biblical archaeology and providing better understanding of the ancient languages.A
 warning the abiru [Khabiru]', who were approaching from

This and the next several photos are reliefs or stone carvings from Assyrian sites.

The king rides his chariot while hunting and fighting.

The mythical creature (part man, lion, bull, winged creature) from Babylonian mythology.

The king (who is something of a god himself) approaches the god . . . .

Shalmanezer's water tub . . . . !

Athena at the entrance to her temple.

The sanctuary of the Berliner Dom, the (Protestant) Cathedral of Berlin.

The pulpit of the Berliner Dom. Huge, made of intricately carved oak.

Statues of Luther and Melanchthon high in the ceiling of the Dom. Zwingli and Calvin are on the other two corners.

A close-up of the pulpit . . . the eagle lectern is a copy of one designed in 1701.

The organ of the Dom. Considered to be the largest and most important intact instrument with pneumatic action from the German Late Romantic Period.

The ceremonial sarcophagus of Electoral Prince Friedrich Wilhelm. (He is actually buried in a massive granite tomb in the crypt.) This is in the sanctuary for all to view and marvel.

Another picture of the pulpit . . . just sayin'. Is this too much, you think?

Mrs. Wilhelm (actually, Dorothea, second wife of Friedrich Wilhelm).

This picture is particularly poignant. This plaque stood just outside a small but very ornate chapel, off the main sanctuary, used primarily for baptisms and marriage. It had altar, icons, paintings, chandeliers, organ, etc. What struck me instantly is that these are the very same words which appeared on a brass plaque bolted to the rough, bare, rock roof of a cave near Bern, Switzerland. Here, congregants are invited to come for quiet and prayer. There, refugees gathered for the same reason. Yet, the contrast between location and situation could not be more stark.

A relief of Luther and compatriots on the outside of the Dom.

Mike and I climbed the dome staircase which leads to an outside walkway which goes all the way around the dome and offers expansive views of the city. It was cloudy and rainy so not the best views but one can see more closely some of the statuary way up on the church . . . as well as other monumental buildings in Berlin.

Back to nature: on this balcony, high up on the church, are a couple of bee hives. Put there to encourage a return of bees to the urban area.

This angel is a percussionist in the worship band--cymbal and tambourine; her (its) assistant is playing a pipe of some kind.

Not so easy to see here, but I was taken by the number of church spires one can see from this perspective. They stand above the city sky line in every direction. One thinks that so many churches ought to have a powerful effect on the spiritual and moral climate of the city . . . . . .

Looking down on the open plaza that is in front of the cathedral. To the right is one of the other historical museums of the area.

This the Kaiser's Stairwell, the entryway to the Cathedral for the ruling couple. There are 13 paintings on the way up depicting scenes from the life of Christ.

The Berliner Dom from the front.

And to the south is another museum of antiquities. Everything in this area is extra big and ostentatious.

Oh, yes . . . the museum of modern culture.

Forgot what this was . . . pretty good, as I remember, though.

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