Act 1 -- 1971, Berlin
We lived in Germany, where my husband worked as a civilian reporter for Stars & Stripes, the US military newspaper. In the Soviet system, the job description “reporter for military newspaper” was a euphemism for “spy,” so they thought the same applied on the other side. Although ordinary Americans, including GIs, could enter the East at will, we were not allowed to travel anywhere behind the Iron Curtain. No visits to Hungary or Poland, no stroll into East Berlin. Through severe machinations involving the issuance of new passports, we managed to sign up for a half-day guided bus tour to East Berlin.
On the bus we headed for Museum Island, the site of the famous Pergamon Museum, built to house the magnificent relics taken from the ancient Greek city of Pergamon after it was excavated by German archaologists in the 1870s. Ken, who had loved archaeology since boyhood, could hardly wait to get inside and see the goodies. But wait – we couldn’t actually get off the bus. In fact, the only place we were allowed to set foot on the ground was at a cheesy tourist site where we had to spend the money we had had to change into East German marks.
PS -- Ken pined over his missed opportunity for 39 years. I cannot estimate the number of times he regretted not going to the Pergamon, and the number of times he observed that if we ever visited Berlin again that would be his priority sightseeing target.
Act 2 – 2008, Pergamon
We signed up for a tour to Greece and Turkey, mainly so Ken could visit more archaeology sites, including Ephesus, Troy and – yes – Pergamon! Pergamon, in western Turkey, was a pretty impressive sight, but of course all the good stuff was in Berlin, leaving a lot of ruins for the tourists.
Europe was again in the midst of a heat wave, and it was nearing 90 that day. Inside the museum it seemed even hotter. It was just like being back in the real Pergamon – hot and full of tourists – except there was a roof and no ocean breezes and you did get to see the Great Altar. And just like in the real Pergamon, the high point of the afternoon was a cold beer at the earliest opportunity (sorry, no air-conditioned bus).
PS – Ken decided maybe those 39 years of pining over the Pergamon Museum had been in vain. We thought the Great Altar was a little underwhelming. What we really liked in the museum was the Ishtar Gate, formerly resident in Babylon. Enough of this archaeology stuff – on to the art museums.