History of technology on the street.

On our walk in the Tiergarten on Sunday, we came across this great little open-air museum of gas lanterns situated at the western end of the park. If you were just walking through, you might not notice that all the lanterns are different, but when you stop to look, you see that each one has a little sign on it identifying its origin, type of design, date of manufacture, and other information.

As you soon discover, this is a cooperation between the Deutsches Technikmuseum and some gas companies, to highlight the gaslight era, beautify a public space, and presumably give a nice, happy, nostalgic cast to the natural gas industry. My German is still quite poor, so I was not able to glean much detail about the exhibit from the signs (which are all in German), but as you can see from the map, there are 90 different streetlamps from all over Germany and Europe, gathered along a short stretch of path.

As someone who knows little about the design of gas lanterns, I would have appreciated a little more history-of-technology interpretation. How, exactly, did municipal gaslight systems work? Did all the lamps in a city need to be lit every night, or were there mechanisms for doing this automatically? Where did the gas come from (was it natural gas, coal gas, or…?), and how was it conveyed? What was the relationship between the city’s gaslight system and domestic gas lighting? When exactly was the gaslight era: what ushered it in, and what replaced it? You can certainly figure out the answers to at least some of these questions from the individual lamp plaques themselves, but I would have appreciated more interpretive signage interspersed along the route.

That said, the sheer curiosity of having so many different lamps gathered in one location made me think anew about the gas lamp as artifact, and with my inability to read the signs themselves, I found myself inspecting the different lamps, comparing them, to see if I could discern any important design differences, or figure out what certain mechanisms did. That in and of itself seems to me to be a great accomplishment.

I’m looking forward to making a trip to the museum itself one of these weekends.

Pergamon Museum.

I’ve uploaded some photos from our first museum outing a little over a week ago, when we spent a Sunday afternoon at the Pergamon Museum. I didn’t pull out my camera until we had already gone through the Pergamon exhibit itself, so there is no photo of the Hodensack.

Lion on the Ishtar Gate

While the Pergamon exhibit and altar were both fantastic, I was particularly taken with the Ishtar Gate, which is just a fraction of its original size, and is so very imposing already. The colors, in particular, transport me directly to one of my favorite spaces in the world, a particular hallway leading to the Egyptian galleries at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Turquoise and blue and deep yellow, warm and cool at the same time.

Though we went to the Islamic galleries last, I probably could have spent the day there. Such beautiful objects.

Disembodied parts.

Today’s German word of the day is Hodensack, which we learned while visiting the Pergamon Museum.

Why, you might ask, did we learn this particular word at one of the greatest collections of classical antiquity in the world? Because in one of the exhibit cases was a set of bronze statue fragments, forever separated from the human figures they once constituted, including fingers, toes, and, yes, a scrotum. So there it was on the exhibit card, in German, English, and Turkish, for our immediate edification and amusement.

I was looking at the card to figure out what it was, which made me wonder about the reaction of the archaeologist or laborer who unearthed it so that it might be displayed under glass alongside other bronze body parts. Did he know what it was immediately? Or was it simply a statue fragment, which, upon closer inspection, appeared to be a scrotum? Or did he hazard a guess, because in his experience scrota were slightly less common than fingers and toes, but still relatively common pieces of bronze statuary to find when excavating an ancient site?

More on the Pergamon and our first weekend in Berlin coming soon.