80E. Spoils of War

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Not only are we in Berlin, we are in the former East Berlin, the area that was once behind the wall. Today, all traces of the wall have been removed save for a couple of sections. I told the kids that the largest piece they will ever see was the one we saw at the Reagan Library back in October. Outside the door step of our apartment building is a reminder of the past, there are four brass plaques with names of former residents. These plaques are all over the city in front of homes of citizens who were sent to death camps during WWII. Four members of the Sussman family lived here and were killed at Auschwitz, the youngest was a 10 year old girl named Sonia.
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We are half a mile north of Museum Island, another UNESCO heritage site, with five grand museums and a beautiful green domed cathedral. We took time to visit the Neues and Pergamon museums. The Nueues was filled with Egyptian, Assyrian, Roman and Greek artifacts. There were many items that were similar to those we saw at the British Museum. The most illustrious piece was the bust of Nefertiti – they wouldn’t allow pictures. I am scared of the museum guards here so I didn’t even try. During WWII much of the museum pieces were boxed up for protection. It was a wise choice, the museum was hit pretty hard and everything still there was incinerated. Except the copy of the Gates of Paradise – we saw another copy of these gates in Florence where they stood in for the real gates, in Florence, but you have to pay to see those in the Dom Treasury. Not sure why Germany has a copy. At the end of the war the pieces were not unwrapped and put back on their shelves, the allies divvied them up and spirited them away. After a time everyone must have felt bad and gave Germany back their stuff, or at least the stuff their archeologists had appropriated from other countries. Everyone that is except USSR. They still have some “golden crates” of the spoils of war. The museum literature makes it clear that Russia is still in violation of international law by not returning their things but clearly Russia plays by its own set of rules.

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The Pergamom has items from Assyria, really big huge items. In fact they have the largest indoor museum item ever. They managed to cart back the 2-story Market Gate of Miletus from Greece. The market had been destroyed by an earthquake and laid in pieces. Germany picked them up and put them back together in the museum. This piece was impressive in its own right – but they had more HUGE items assembled in other rooms like the Pergamon alter…
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The Ishtar gate from Babylon…
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Palace walls of the Caliph of Mshatta from Jordan…
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There are conflicting thoughts going trough my mind when viewing these pieces. First, how wonderful it is that they have survived and been preserved. Second, should they have been moved from their original locations? Granted many treasures have been lost due to geo-political instability and crazies. It is how some museums justify holding on to many items. However, some items were not originally “saved” they were simply taken or the country rulers made a deal to sell items which enriched the ruler but did nothing for the country. Museums make items more accessible to a larger number of people but they can be really boring. Seeing items in their original location is more impactful. Some of our favorite sites have been unique items in situ like the Mammoth site, mesa verde, the Roman forum and the church treasures of Venice.
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After so much museum walking we had a rest on the lawn in front of the Berlin Cathedral. I wish some pictures came with a soundtrack, while we rested a street artist nearby serenaded the world with their violin. We visited Alexanderplatz which had some party going on with food vendors, carnival rides, live music and a Beergarten. Brody even tried the bungee-trampoline and was doing back flips before his time ended.
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2 responses to “80E. Spoils of War

  1. Dear Elizabeth, Sounds as if you are getting a little LIBERAL in your thinking about who should be the “custodians” of world treasures. Ponder this:
    1. The primary reason to wage war is to take the other guys stuff and show it off ! The Europeans perfected this system.
    2. The people who actually made the stuff are dead and in most places their descendants were displaced from the point of origin. The Turks (Muslims) and the Arab (Muslims) in Egypt simply occupy the places the stuff was made and have about zero heritage with the makers. You want these guys watching over the stuff and selling you tickets to see it? Also some of these places do not have air conditioning and serve warm soft drinks.
    3. The Russians for very good reasons just do not like, I mean really do not like, the Germans who have invaded them twice and didn’t bother to steal the Russian stuff they just destroyed it all ! The Russians are not giving back the stuff they now have that the Germans had previously stolen unless the Germans would like to buy it back (maybe) !
    4. Only the USA is dumb enough to conquer a country and steal their stuff fair and square and then immediately give it back along with massive amounts of foreign aide. With two notable exceptions:::
    A. Cannon captured during the Mexican War were absolutely essential and necessary for the decoration of the U S Naval Academy and cannot of course be returned under any circumstances. It is all together fitting and proper that this has happened!
    B. Art produced by the Nazi SS must be retained and hidden by the US Army somewhere secret because simply to gaze upon these images would cause a mortal citizen to consider the Second Amendment a constitutional right worthy of defending and in some really extreme cases voting for a Tea Party candidate!
    Are we now clear on this subject ? Enjoy the rest of Berlin !

  2. Pingback: Where Did We Go? | Friend Family Adventure·

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