Museum mystery in Berlin: who damaged dozens of works of art with liquid? And how?


A stain is visible on an ancient Egyptian stone sarcophagus.Image Getty Images

On the day of German unity, October 3, the Pergamon Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island reopened after a closure caused by the corona virus. For the first time in months, visitors were able to see the world-famous Egyptian sarcophagi and Islamic art thousands of years old. Now it appears that among those visitors were one or more unknown perpetrators who made dark spots on dozens of works of art with a mysterious liquid.

In the neighboring Alte Nationalgalerie, the Alte Museum and the Neue Museum, as well as perhaps other museums in the German capital, works of art were also stained, from Greek statues of the gods to 19th-century paintings. This concerns both art from the permanent collections and works borrowed from abroad. At least 70 objects would have been damaged. It is not yet known exactly which works of art are involved.

‘Iconoclastic attacks’

German media speak of an attack on art, the newspaper die Zeit himself referred to “one of the greatest iconoclastic attacks in Germany after World War II.” The term iconoclasm assumes an ideological motive, but the perpetrator’s motive is still shrouded in mystery.

The director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin records the damage. Image Getty Images

There is, however, a dotted line to the message that the extreme right-wing conspiracy theorist Attila Hildmann, a radicalized vegan top chef, spread this summer via the social medium Telegram. According to Hildmann, the Pergamon Museum has “the throne of Satan” and is therefore the “global center of the Satanist scene” where “corona criminals” make their “human sacrifices” and “assault children.” Also during anti-corona demonstrations Hildmann made statements that seem inspired by the QAnon movement that came over from the US.

It is unclear why Hildmann is aiming at the Pergamon Museum. Although he added that it is ‘no coincidence’ that Angela Merkel’s apartment is close to Museum Island. German media suspect that Hildmann has incited people to damage the artworks with his inflammatory texts, but it is not more than a suspicion.

Many questions

Apart from that, art staining so far raises many more questions than there are answers, the most pressing of which is why the police and the umbrella organization of the duped museums, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (SPK), tried to keep the destruction secret, to journalists from die Zeit and the news platform Deutschlandfunk brought the news out Tuesday evening.

The Landeskriminalamt has now confirmed that an investigation is underway into the damage of ‘a large number of exhibits with a liquid damaged’, but do not want to answer any further questions. According to the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel the police did try to approach people who visited the museums on 3 October as possible witnesses on Wednesday. The problem is that only the contact details of visitors who have booked tickets online are known.

Mystery

For the time being, it therefore remains a mystery how the perpetrator was able to proceed without being observed by fellow visitors or attendants. The Pergamon Museum alone attracted more than 3 thousand visitors on 3 October, a Saturday.

Or were there several perpetrators? If it was a person, he must have been busy for hours. What could have helped him: in the museum, where mainly archaeological finds from the Middle East are exhibited, not all rooms have surveillance cameras.

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