Almost 1.5 million people visited the Pergamon last year, making it Berlin’s most popular museum. Many come to see the monumental Pergamon Altar – a huge marble work dating from the 2nd Century BC. It depicts Greece’s greatest heroes and gods locked in battle and destroying enemies.
It was brought to Germany from its home in modern day Turkey in the late 19th Century.
The impending closure of the hall housing the altar, to renovate the museum, has prompted huge queues on Berlin’s Museum Island this week.
And the director of the museum’s antiquity collection, Andreas Scholl, told The Local the museum was braced for fewer visitors after Sunday with the closure, particularly as its capacity would be reduced.
“It is inevitable,” he said. “Although we’ll have to wait and see how much it [visitor numbers] goes down by.”
The Pergamon hall is the main room which greets visitors on entry.
With that shutting, and the wing housing Greek antiquities already closed, just one section of Germany’s most famous museum will remain open - the wing housing the Babylon or Ishtar Gate (Ischtar-Tor) and the Market Gate of Miletus (Markttor).
Scholl said that the museum’s finance department was looking into reducing ticket prices.
And to compensate for the loss, plans have been put forward to recreate the altar with a light display called the Pergamon Box. But that needs both money (€10 million) and space. “We have lots of ideas and concepts,” Scholl added.
The altar was restored between 1994 and 2004 and is in reasonable condition, unlike the rest of the museum, Scholl said. Although some work will be carried out on the altar, the state of the museum building is the main reason for the five-year closure of the hall.
“Much of the building is in a horrible condition,” he said. “Steel has rusted, glass is in a bad way, the electrics date back to 1929, so you can imagine what they’re like. There’s no climate control, all the water and power systems need to be redone.”
The building was opened in 1930, but Scholl said financial problems meant it opened as a “half complete” museum.
The next five years aim to remedy that with a total of €385 million being spent on the Pergamon under a master plan for the entire Unesco World Heritage Site area known as Museum Island.
Under the master plan a fourth wing will also be built on the Pergamon. It will become the main entrance and house an Egyptian collection.