Artworks Vandalized On Berlin's Museum Island

Authorities are searching for clues after vandals launched an attack on around 70 ancient artifacts and artworks in popular Berlin museums.

Artworks Vandalized On Berlin's Museum Island

The discovery of extensive damage to artworks and artifacts on Berlin's Museum Island — the city's cultural center —  is yet to be explained as a senseless act of vandalism, or a crime meant to send a message. 

On Wednesday morning, police confirmed reports by German media, including newspaper Der Tagesspiegel and broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, that unknown perpetrators sprayed oily liquid on at least 70 objects in the Pergamon Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie and other locations. Authorities have so far declined to provide further details. 

Media reports indicated that the crime had occurred nearly three weeks ago, on October 3, which was German Unity Day and the 30th anniversary of reunification between East and West Germany. Whether the day was deliberately chosen remains a mystery. 

The act of vandalism was "one of the most extensive attacks on works of art and antiquities in the history of post-war Germany," wrote German daily Die Zeit. Among the damaged pieces are Egyptian sarcophagi, stone sculptures, and 19th-century paintings. The liquid has left visible stains on the artworks and artifacts. 

The question remains as to why authorities remained silent about the crime for nearly three weeks. According to Tagesspiegel, the State Criminal Police Office (LKA) wrote to people who had visited the museums on October 3 and asked if they had seen anything suspicious. A preliminary investigation into the property damage has since been opened.

October 3 was the first day the museum had been open since March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic forced it to shut its doors. 

The five museums that make up Museum Island in the heart of Berlin are among the most important museums in the country, with the cultural complex becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

The Pergamon Museum celebrated its 90th birthday at the beginning of October, and is one of the most popular museums in Germany, attracting roughly 1 million visitors per year —  thanks to the Pergamon Altar which dates back to the 2nd century B.C.

Security at Museum Island has been the subject of ongoing criticism. In 2017, a gang succeeded in stealing a 100-kilogram (200 pound) gold coin called "Big Maple Leaf" valued at 3.75 million euros ($4.38 million) from the Bode Museum. The elaborate heist involved a ladder, wheelbarrow and getaway car. 

(DW with dpa)