Vandalism on Berlin Museum Island

Over 60 works of art are damaged

Granite bowl in the pleasure garden also called Biedermeier wonder of the world, Berlin, Germany
The Granite Dish, Berlin 2020

It cannot be denied any more: Culture is being attacked

The striking and world-famous granite bowl in front of the Altes Museum has been badly damaged.

Graffiti and vulgar remarks were sprayed on the granite bowl in front of the Altes Museum. On Berlin's Museum Island another case of vandalism has occurred. A large granite bowl in thepleasure garden in front of the Altes Museum was defaced, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz announced on Saturday, October 24.

The granite bowl is the largest bowl in the world made of a single stone. The bowl, created by Johann Gottlieb Christian Cantian, was commissioned by King Friedrich Wilhelm III in 1826, according to the Monument Office. The bowl with a diameter of almost seven meters was cut from a single granite boulder. The elaborate work of art was given the nickname "Biedermeier wonder of the world".

Art vandalism: Attack on works of art

The latest vandalism occurred around three weeks after the smearing of 63 works of art in the museums.

On October 3rd 2020, at least 63 works of art and artefacts were sprayed with an oily, transparent liquid that has left visible stains on Egyptian sarcophagi, stone sculptures and 19th century paintings at the Pergamon Museum, the Neues Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie.

Vandalized Ancient Egyptian stone sarcophagus
Ancient Egyptian stone sarcophagus

The attack is neither an art action nor a cultural statement. Nor is it directed against a particular museum or a particular type of object - otherwise the trail of destruction would not be so randomly drawn from the Pergamon Panorama to the Pergamon Museum and the Neues Museum to the Alte Nationalgalerie.

Investigations on account of damage to property

The oil spraying of Berlin is an attack on museums in general. It is much less about the individual exhibits, but rather about the status they enjoy: the significance of being a museum.

The mysterious story of Venus de Milo Goddess of love and female beauty

The damage was apparently caused with full intention. Whether it was senseless vandalism or a targeted attack - perhaps intentional on the Day of German Unity - is under investigation. As confirmed by the National Museums in Berlin, the damage took place during opening hours: "The soiling was not observed during the perpetration. The perpetrator(s) acted very covertly and apparently took advantage of moments when the supervisory staff and other visitors were unable to witness their action".

Connection to conspiracy ideologists

News of the attack was kept from the public for more than two weeks. German media have linked the museum island attack to conspiracy theories pushed through social media channels by prominent coronavirus deniers in recent months.

Vandalism of museum artefacts
Statue of Athena Parthenos, Pergamon Museum, Berlin

One such theory claims that the Pergamon Museum is the centre of the “global satanism scene” because it holds a reconstruction of the ancient Greek Pergamon Altar. The vandals from the Museum Island have something of lost spirits. But they must be taken seriously. Attacks like the ones that have just happened are not only directed at the exhibits, but at the museum as an institution.

Minister of State for Culture Monika Grütters strongly condemned the vandalism. It is directed "against artistic forms of expression, against the cultural heritage of all of us, against civil forms of conflict and thus against the principles of our democratic self-image. The attacks showed a deep contempt for works of art and cultural achievements in general.

She called for better security precautions at the National Museums: "I immediately asked the President to submit a comprehensive report on this to the Foundation Board," said the State Minister of Culture. "It must be clarified how these many damages could have gone unnoticed and how such attacks are to be prevented in the future”.

Museum Island is a UNESCO world heritage site in the heart of Berlin and one of the city’s main tourist attractions

History of the unique park between castle and Museum Island

The Granite Dish in the Berlin Lustgarten, Oilpainting on canvas
The Granite Dish in the Berlin Lustgarten, 1831
  • The area is first mentioned in 1471. It is assumed that the area had already served as a garden and playground for courtly festivities.
  • In 1645, Friedrich Wilhelm, the Great Elector, had the garden redecorated and artistically designed on the model of the Dutch gardens. The park developed into Berlin's first botanical garden.
  • The soldier king Friedrich Wilhelm I. had rare plants, statues and artistically designed flower pots moved to the palace gardens of Charlottenburg and Friedrichsfelde and had the basin removed. Then he redesigned the gardens into a sand-roofed parade ground.
  • Frederick II had chestnut avenues planted around the still unplanted square on the Spree side. The greened, shady part of the Lustgarten developed as a promenade to compete with the street Unter den Linden. On the basis of Schinkel's ideas, Peter Joseph Lenné redesigned the square of the Lustgarten in 1829, bordered by the Spree, the City Palace, the Cathedral and the Old Museum.
  • During the Weimar Republic, from 1919 to 1933, the square was used for political rallies, primarily by the labor movement. On February 7, 1933, shortly after Hitler's appointment as Reich Chancellor, a demonstration was organized in the Lustgarten by organizations close to the SPD in which some 200,000 people took part to protest against the Hitler government. The last Reich banner march against the National Socialist government took place on February 19, 1933, which also ended with a large rally at the Lustgarten.
  • In 1936 Hitler gave a speeches to a large crowd of young Nazis in the Lustgarten in Berlin. In its function as a rallying place, the Lustgarten was used by the National Socialists; on April 1, 1933, Göbbels called for a boycott against the Jews in a speech here, and in 1935 the Lustgarten became the Nazis' official parade ground.
  • In addition to the Nazi rallies of the time, on one occasion the Lustgarten was also a site of anti-fascist protest; on May 18, 1942, the resistance group around Herbert Baum carried out an arson attack on the propaganda exhibition "The Soviet Paradise," which resulted in the arrest and murder of Herbert Baum and 28 other people.
  • At the beginning of 1945, the Lustgarten and the buildings adjacent to it were severely damaged by Allied bombing raids.
  • In the first years of the GDR, the Lustgarten served as a parade ground for demonstrations.
  • After the German reunification the pleasure garden got back its historical name. Plans were implemented to redesign the pleasure garden in the spirit of Lenné.

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