Berlin’s Museum Island and its Ancient Treasures with Frederika Tevebring

Berlin’s Museum Island and its Ancient Treasures with Frederika Tevebring


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This talk is a virtual tour of the island, looking both at the architecture of the buildings as well as the objects within them. We will focus especially on their religious and political importance, both in antiquity and modernity.

In the heart of Berlin lies the Museum Island, home of the Pergamon Altar, the bust of Nefertiti, and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. Between them, these objects testify to the ways that politics, religion, and art was used in tandem to contest or legitimize power across ancient Egypt, Greece, and Mesopotamia. This is no less true for their modern history. The museums were built over a century, from the 1820s to the 1930s and reflect Berlin’s turbulent modern history. The island was initially developed to reflect the ideals of German humanist: to better the nation through culture; later, as Prussia rose to become the leader of the unified Germany, monuments such as the Pergamon Altar would be co-opted as symbols of the young empire’s power; in the twentieth century, the antiquities found themselves on the frontline of — and as bargaining chips in — war and political rivalries.

This talk is a virtual tour of the island, looking both at the architecture of the buildings as well as the objects within them. We will visit its great archaeological museums and familiarize ourselves with some of their most famous objects. We will focus especially on their religious and political importance – for example how the Ishtar gate depicts Babylon’s rise to power by establishing the city’s god Marduk within the Mesopotamian pantheon and how Nefertiti’s portrait lay forgotten for millennia as later generations sought to erase the memory of her husband’s religious revolution. We will also trace the winding road on which these objects ended up in Germany and discuss how they continued to be deployed in modern political and ideological debates.

Led by specialist Dr Frederika Tevebring, we’ll gain a snapshot into the wonderful collections at Berlin’s Museum Island. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with a much learned understanding of this location and hopefully inspiration for a future visit.

Originally from Sweden, Frederika lived in Berlin and Chicago before settling in London. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature with focus on Classics from Northwestern University. She has also earned a BA and MA in Ancient Studies and Religious History respectively from the Freie Universität, Berlin and has several seasons of archaeological fieldwork around Greece under her belt.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.