“We don’t catch hold of an idea, rather the idea catches hold of us and enslaves us and whips us in to the arena so that we, forced to be gladiators fight for it.”
– Heinrich Heine 1797 – 1858
So says the inscription on the statue of German Poet, Journalist and literary critic, Heinrich Heine, in Berlin, Germany. His words of wisdom have often intrigued me and it was for that very reason that I tracked down his statue, on a recent trip to Berlin.
Why bother to search for a statue, you might say? After all, the Heine statue is a little off the usual tourist path and one has to actively search for it, [and you already know that I was doing just that]. It is because I’ve been fascinated by the liberal, and at times prophetic words, of this free thinking writer and how his words written in the 19th century, became catastrophically true, in the twentieth century. But more about that a little later.
Heine’s statue sits in a small square, fringed with manicured hedges and shady trees, and is a suitable spot to rest and reflect, as Heine did, upon the world, (although I suspect, today’s visitors might update social media, rather than navel-gaze). Whilst mapping out my walking route around Berlin attractions, finding his statue was a short stop before my walking destination – the Pergamon, a Berlin absolute ‘must – see’.
The Pergamon is situated amongst a complex of museums, housed in several palatial buildings on Museum Island. The classic architecture of the museum buildings harkens back to Ancient times and is an excellent visual attraction in itself.
Also in the Museum complex, the monumental Neues Museum, circa 1800’s, contains Ancient art and archeology, whilst Neoclassical art fills the neighbouring and awe-inspiring Altes Nationalgalerie.
But, I am here to see the Pergamon itself, and its jewels in the archaeological crown – one of which is the excavation finds of frieze panels of the Pergamon Altar, reclaimed in archaeological digs, from 1878 to 1886. Disappointingly, for me and future visitors, I find that the Pergamon Altar exhibit is closed for renovation, until 2019. Well, maybe next time.
Nevertheless, I am aware that one ‘altar’ doth the Pergamon, not make. There are other ‘jewels’ to see. Some of the other monolithic exhibits, such as the Market Gate of Miletus, the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way from Babylon, are overwhelming and to say that is a complete understatement. Just look at them!!!
If you don’t ever get to visit the historic sites of the Middle East yourself, visiting the Pergamon will make you feel like you have!
The exhibits are unlike anything I have seen and are but a small window into the world of ancient civilizations. I am completely gobsmacked by the level of intricate detail and the skills necessary to produce such fine work.
To Plan a visit, go to the Museum website here, and please note there’s an option to purchase a combo ticket, for entry to all three museums, at a discounted price. A good tip to remember is to arrive at the Pergamon around opening time so as to avoid the lengthy queues commonly found, later in the day. I arrived just on opening time, and already the queue to enter took around 20 minutes.
If you decide the queues to the Pergamon are too long on your arrival, the surrounding gardens and Berlin’s Domkirke cathedral are in themselves, a delight to see. The square in front of the Cathedral church is filled with buskers, street artists, and unfortunately, a few less desirable folk angling for the tourist dollar, legally or illegally. Be careful with your money around them.
On my lengthy walk around Berlin, and the Pergamon, I was happy to find Heine, and pondered his thought-provoking words, especially his tragically prophetic line from the 1821 play, Almansor,
“Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.”
Today, as I read a book called Stasiland by Australian author, Anna Funder, and learn of what it was like to live in the GDR, prior to the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall, I remember the inscription on Heine’s statue and ponder more his words, in much the same way as Anna Funder did, in her book:
“Heine, the free thinking poet, would be turning in his grave to see the sort of enslaving and forcing and fighting that has gone on here, under his cold black nose and pigeon shit shoulders.” -Anna Funder in Stasiland.
Have we really learned any lessons?
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Amanda at Something to Ponder About