Updated: Sep 18
In 1830, the Altes Museum opened in Berlin. The artist and architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel realized his own version of the Roman pantheon in Berlin and thus created the first building of the Museum Island. The architectural center of the Altes Museum is the Rotunda. The round dome-like room is 23 meters high. It is surrounded by columns that hold up the gallery. The niches between the columns are the home of the gods. From their pedestals they look down on you. Frozen in stone, they stand in a circle. They see everything, they know everything and yet they are destined to be unable to act. Silent observers in a sinking world.
Two centuries have passed since the Rotunda was built. The events of this world broke through the Rotunda in waves and yet it still stands. An illusion. The museum was destroyed and with it the Rotunda. It had disappeared, erased from this earth. Rebuilt. People in their constant evolution. Everything is new, everything is improved, modernized. And yet. The old, the original is important to people. It is always being rebuilt. Imitated and repaired. Everything is transient and yet we hold on, cling to things.
The Rotunda is a homage to the Pantheon in Rome. One could also say a copy. The Pantheon is about 1900 years old. It dates back to the ancient Roman Empire and although it was not built as a church, it was consecrated as such. For 1900 years now, this building has stood in the center of Rome. Hordes of visitors from all over the world want to see the ancient building. And there are replicas all over the world. Inspired by something that reflects the essence of the human desire for eternity. Infinity. Immortality.
The dome of the Rotunda in the Altes Museum in Berlin was only built 200 years ago. The Rotunda stood for 115 years. Then it burned. A fire that caused 115 years to go up in smoke. The colored painting of the Rotunda was restored in 1982. 40 years later, it stands again. An illusion of the old. An illusion of the eternal.
Eternity is a wish. Immortality is a fear. Much has endured, and despite time, still does. You are standing in the Rotunda in Berlin. A city full of history. A city that stands again, after total destruction. Some people have become immortal. They have immortalized themselves in people's memories. Names have survived, actions have written history. But why is it not the builders who remain eternal? Immortals are the cruel, the terrible, the monstrous.
The dome of the building arches over you. The light shines down on you through the round window at its center and makes the sculptures around you seem alive. They look at you from all sides. The goddess of victory, the god of wine, love itself, the messenger of the gods and the mother of the gods. Immortal. After all the years, after all the religions, philosophies and sciences. Still, they are there. Persevering and standing tall. The epitome of eternity. The desire of man.
But that too is only an illusion. In their marble dignity, they look as if they have always been standing here. But they have not. The statues of the Rotunda have been changed repeatedly over the course of time. Exchanged. Replaced. But the faces, the stories, the names. They are eternal. Immortal. We know them, the gods from another time. They, too, were cruel, terrible and monstrous. Their actions were so monstrous. Their motives so human. Frozen in stone, they stand here in a circle. In a city of modernity and change. They stand here in an illusion of the past.
They will probably not stand here forever. Who knows the future. If history has taught us one thing, it is that nothing is eternal. People try anyway. Again and again. The Rotunda has managed to defy destruction. It has been rebuilt. The illusion remains. At least for the time being.
Written by India Wittmershaus.
Cover photo by Manfred Heyde.