Wed, Jan 05, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Nefertiti gets new home in Berlin

ANCIENT QUEEN As the wounds of post-war division are finally healing over, the German capital's Egyptian art collection is being brought back together at long last


Egypt and Germany have been fighting for possession of her for 90 years but, because Adolf Hitler loved her, she remained in Berlin's Egyptian art museum.

In a dispute as old as the land of the Nile itself, Egypt has repeatedly reasserted its claim to the wayward beauty it says is being held illegally in Berlin.

The wayward beauty is one of the great masterpieces of Ancient Egyptian art -- the 3,300-year-old bust of 18th Dynasty Queen Nefertiti. Now she is on the move again. She will not be going home to Egypt. Instead, she will be moving across town to new digs, relinquishing her pedestal in a converted guard house in what used to be West Berlin for more royal surroundings in the heart of reunited Berlin.

The wounds of post-war division are finally healing over, and the German capital's Egyptian art collection, one of the finest outside Egypt itself, is being brought back together at long last.

The painted limestone and plaster bust, depicting the elegantly chiselled life-sized features of a stunningly beautiful woman wearing a unique cone-shaped headdress, has formed the cornerstone of Berlin's Egyptian collection since German archeologists discovered the bust in the ruins of an ancient artist's studio on the banks of the Nile in 1912.

The collection initially was housed at the Neues Museum (New Museum) just a few meters from the Hohenzollern Palace in the heart of Berlin. Reflecting the fashion of the times, the museum itself was done up inside to resemble an Ancient Egyptian temple, complete with hieroglyphic inscriptions on the walls.

But as bombs rained down on Berlin during World War II, curators hastily stashed the city's art treasures at warehouses outside the city. After the war, some of those warehouses turned out to be in East Germany, and others in West Germany.

Nefertiti ended up in the west and took up residency in West Berlin's makeshift Egyptian museum in a converted guard house across the street from Charlottenburg Palace. But the bulk of the Berlin Egyptian collection remained in the east, and was on view at the Bode Museum in East Berlin until the Berlin Wall came down.

Since then, the city has been working to renovate and, in some cases, rebuild the 19th Century museum complex that once graced the center of this city.

Around the middle of the year, work will have progressed enough that the Egyptian collection will be able to be reunited under one roof for the first time since the war.

Nefertiti will be removed from the converted guard house on March 2 to take up temporary residence at the Kultur Forum exhibition hall at Potsdamer Platz in the revivified centre of Berlin. There, she will form the focal point of a six-month exhibit on Egyptian hieroglyphs and their influence on art up to the modern day.

If all goes according to plan, Nefertiti will be able to move into the newly rebuilt but anachronistically named Altes Museum (Old Museum).

But even the Altes Museum is only temporary lodgings for her. Her original digs in the nearby Neues Museum will be ready by 2008 or 2009, thus bringing her back home again.

An alluring mystery has surrounded the bust since its discovery on Dec. 7, 1912, incredibly intact and sporting vibrant colors, after lying in forgotten in the sands since the tumultuous days at the close of the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaton, one of the most enigmatic rulers of all time.

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