BERLIN – More than 60 works of art and artifacts from some of Berlin’s best-known museums were smeared with an oily liquid by one or more unknown authors earlier this month, authorities said on Wednesday. They were hoping the seemingly random damage could be fixed, but said the motive was a mystery.
Work on the Museum Island complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of the German capital which is one of the city’s main tourist attractions, was targeted between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on the 3rd October. looked at hours of surveillance camera footage but found no obvious signs of someone applying the liquid.
In all, 63 works from the Pergamon Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie and Neues Museum were affected, said Christina Haak, deputy director of the Berlin State Museums. There was no thematic connection between the targeted works, and “no pattern is discernible” in the author’s approach, added Haak.
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The liquid was oily but not corrosive, said Friederike Seyfried, director of the Egyptian collection in Berlin, which is at the Neues Museum. She wouldn’t give more specific details on the colorless fluid, citing the ongoing investigation.
Carsten Pfohl, a senior official at the Berlin Criminal Police Bureau, said more than 3,000 people visited Museum Island on October 3, the Saturday in which Germany marked the 30th anniversary of its reunification . Complicating investigators’ efforts, most of the day’s tickets were sold on site and only 1,400 personalized tickets had been reserved in advance; everyone who ordered the latter was contacted by email to ask if they noticed anything wrong.
Police said they initially decided not to go public with the incident for “tactical investigation considerations.” On Tuesday evening, the weekly radio Die Zeit and Deutschlandfunk broke history. Police on Wednesday asked witnesses to provide any accounts of suspicious people or events they noticed on October 3.
It was not known how the liquid was applied to the works, Pfohl said. They appear to have been chosen at random, and investigators are inclined to believe that a single perpetrator is responsible, he added – but they are not ruling out multiple perpetrators.
Pfohl said police were investigating “all over the place” but would not participate in local media speculation that conspiracy theorists might be involved.
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There was no indication that this was an “act that speaks for itself,” he added. “This is a variety of objects that have no immediate connection in terms of context … we don’t have a self-incriminating letter or anything like that, so we have to assume for the moment that the pattern is completely blurred.
Pfohl said the incident was not unique as artefacts in museums in other countries have been attacked with liquids in recent years. The officials were not aware of any threats. The damage was discovered by museum staff.
Seyfried said the works involved did not include any paintings and were not among the more well-known attractions at the complex. These attractions include treasures such as the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, and a famous bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti.
German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters strongly condemned the damage to works of art.
She said in a statement that “there is a justified hope that the damage can be repaired,” but said Berlin’s state museums must again answer questions about their safety precautions.
In March 2017, burglars broke into the Bode Museum, part of Museum Island, and escaped with a 100 kilogram (221 pound) Canadian gold coin known as the “Big Leaf maple ”.
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The suspects reportedly smashed a protective case, then lifted the piece out of a museum window before escaping along a train track with their transport in a wheelbarrow. It was never recovered.
Haak said the concept of museum security is constantly being reviewed and officials are considering how to improve it, but “100% security for objects would in principle mean having to remove them from public view. “