What will the cultural studies of 2037 be about? Will they talk about decolonizing art, will they appear headed by an Edward Said quote, will they demand the closure of the British Museum and the return of its treasures to the countries from which they left? He Pergamon Museum of Berlin will be oblivious to everything that is written and debated in the middle because it will remain under construction, closed for 14 years. The clay soil of Museum Island, insufficiently firm, has destabilized the foundations of the building. Although, in reality, the Pergamon Museum had already been at half capacity since 2014, when a curtain covered one of its treasures, the Pergamon Altar (188 BC). Until then, it received an average of 1.3 million visitors a year. Since then, it has passed 800,000 tickets sold. To have a measure: the National Archaeological Museum receives 450,000 people a year.
What will become of Pergamon in 2037? Andreas Scholl, its director, has assured that the reconstruction of the museum It will be material, not intellectual and that, “although no one knows where the debate will evolve,” there are no plans to change its collection and its mission.
Old and noble mission, but also problematic. The Pergamon Museum was conceived in 1907 and opened its doors in 1930 as the place that would show the world Germany’s contribution to knowledge of the ancient world. In fact, there are earlier roots that go back to the 18th century, to the time when the Rhineland-born Johann Joachim Winckelmann linked the romantic love of ruins to the German identity. For thousands of idealists of the 19th century, the call of Antiquity and the East was a vital rite and an inspiration for their nationalist desires.
One of those Germans, the engineer Carl Humann, arrived in Bergama, in the province of Izmir, in 1871 with the commission of the Sublime Gate of Constantinople to advise on the layout of roads and railways. He noticed that the residents of Bergama were using stones from the local Greek acropolis as building materials and called in the Ottoman police to protect the ruins. Afterwards, he called Berlin and got the German government to send an archaeological mission.
Why was the Reich interested in some ruins in Türkiye? First, because that was their way of exercising their international power: Germany had arrived late to the colonial division and settled for helping/tutoring impoverished countries like the Ottoman Empire. Second: because Germany was a young nation that looked to History for a model of its place in the world. For example, classical Greece, Cultural nation of antiquity, the civilization of Athens and Sparta.