I like Nefertiti – and the crowds show that I’m not alone in my admiration. But I’d like to be with her alone, if only for a brief moment. For nearly five years, the most prominent resident of the Neues Museum has been receiving countless guests in her own private hall. And for five years I’ve been thinking how great it would be if I could get to spend a moment alone with her, up there on the second storey. Without crowds of visitors, no incessant footsteps and whispers, without the patient instructions from the guards that the Queen does not allow photographs.
A lonely beauty: a magical moment under the north dome
At a quarter to ten on a Friday morning, I’m standing with a couple dozen other visitors between the columns at the entrance to the Neues Museum waiting for it to open. I somehow manage to slip in as one of the first through the doors so that I can pass through the heavy wooden door at precisely ten. While the rest of the crowd from outside head first to the cloakroom and then begin planning their conquest of the museum, room by room, I am a woman with a mission as I ascend the wide, modern steps of the central staircase.
Bright morning light falls through the tall windows of the first floor stairwell. In the northern wing, the guards are quietly chatting as no visitors have yet made their way to their area. I hurry past the showcases and sculptures of ancient Egypt and then I’m standing in the entrance to the north dome and get to enjoy a magical moment. There’s a silent calm in the octagonal hall—only the faint hum of the ventilation system can be heard. I had previously never noticed how beautiful the room itself is, with its tall, deep green niches along the walls and the large octagonal floor pattern, designed to draw your attention to the room’s centre. There the famous Egyptian holds court, bathing in the filtered morning sun let in by the high glass dome. The light shines on the Queen, who, together with her husband Akhenaten, only worshiped the god of light, more than 3,300 years ago. The royal couple had introduced a monolithic cult of the sun in the ancient land and had banned all other gods.
Between the calves of the Sun God
How many pairs of eyes gaze every day at Nefertiti with just her right eye made of rock crystal and black wax? And admire details like these fine wrinkles at the mouth and the tendons in her neck, all modelled in stucco just a couple of millimetres thick? And – what is Nefertiti actually looking at? I stand with my back turned in front of her and look straight out from her world beyond to the still deserted silence of the adjoining halls. They are lined up, room after room, like a long, magnificent corridor.
Nefertiti looks far beyond them to the south dome about 80 metres away at the other end of the museum. There, standing on a high pedestal, is Helios, the sun god. A little later, I look up at this massive Roman colossus from Egypt, whose marble skin comes alive with the tiny glittering particles embedded within. Then I go behind the statue and look back through the large calves of the Sun God. Helios can’t look Nefertiti in the eye from here, because her glass case is covered in shadow at this distance. Instead, he sees himself clearly reflected as a mysterious, white figure in the distant glass case of the sun-worshipping queen — an effect the guard is certain had been intentional. That would definitely make a good photograph. And as I walk down the stairs a little later, the first big groups of visitors are making their way up to pay their own homage.