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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Ne Plus Ultra #2

I’d booked the only reservation left to go up in the glass dome of the Reichstag. It was for 8:00 am. The night before, I set the alarm for 6:30, looked at the subway map to cement the right stop in my mind and went to bed. 

Somehow, I’d got it wrong and the stop I thought was correct was miles away from the Reichstag. There was no way I’d make the reservation. Disappointed, I was even more determined to see the Nefertiti bust. With visions of the Mona Lisa gallery at the Louvre filling my head, I high tailed it over to the Neues Museum to get in line for tickets. There were seven people in front of me at the kiosk set up in the forecourt shared by the Neues Museum and the Pergamon. 

You can buy entrance tickets for each museum and also tickets that get you into all of them. The people in front, purchased the latter and headed over to the Pergamon. I rushed over to the entrance of the Neues where there were two people already waiting. The doors opened, and we were admitted. They headed over to the coat check. I asked the guard where the Nefertiti bust was and hurried up the stairs. On the second floor, I asked directions from another guard. Normally, I would never do that. Normally, I’d want to convey that I wasn’t superficially fixated solely on art history’s “greatest hits”, and would feign interest in the cases leading into the main attraction. But this time, I cut straight to the chase. As the guard waved me in the correct direction, she all but rolled her eyes. 

I sped walked over to the room in which Nefertiti is displayed. It is a chamber fit for a queen with a series of arched niches forming the walls. The walls are green and look frescoed. The floor is elaborately inlaid polychrome and there’s a domed coffered ceiling. (The entire Neues Museum is beautifully appointed with painted walls, inlaid floors, elaborate ceilings, creating a semblance of a palace from antiquity.) 

For a scant few moments I had Nefertiti all to myself before two guards came hurrying in. Almost immediately I began to weep. Beyond the absolute beauty of the thing, the fact that it is so lifelike and life-size is simply gob smacking. There is something comforting about her eternal beauty and serenity that has endured through millennia. There’s also an intimacy to this one-on-one encounter between Nefertiti and me. She lived over 3,300 years ago and was an Egyptian Queen—I am a 21st century American woman. What could be more different? And yet, all I could think was she was a person and female so experienced many of the things I have. 

Present also in the experience of standing there with Nefertiti is the weight of all the history that has transpired between her lifetime and mine. It’s impossible not to feel the enormity of the difference and yet the commonality of being human. My time with Nefertiti was brief—I felt awkward lingering too long with the guards there—but it was one of the most profound experiences I have ever had.