Luftangriffe auf Pergamon

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 1.1.6./04906).

During the research work about Berlin city, its streets and its inhabitants during the war and the air bombings, it is quite common to come across photos that show the ruined state and the damage caused by the war, most of them taken after the battle by the victors, some of the most remarkable buildings like the Berliner Dom or the Stadtschloss in Mitte even have a hundred snapshots showing damage after 1945. What is not so usual is to find in the archives a whole record of damage taken by the building with its corresponding image. We are fortunate that Pergamon Museum is one of the latter, with an extensive gallery of its terrible wounds caused by the Allies’ bombing campaign and the final battles with the Russians. The history and destruction of Pergamon’ during the Second World War was already told in this blog (see our previous posts - Pergamonmuseum in Berlin and Pergamonmuseum in Berlin: Post 1945) but the high number of pictures found at the Zentralarchiv der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin and new photos led us to share this extra gallery post showing the severe damage inflicted to one of the most beautiful places in the German capital. 

Starting in mid 1943 British Bomber Command launched a stronger and dedicated air bombing campaign on the city, specially during the last week of November, damaging several cultural buildings that included Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum and Pergamonmuseum. City records reported that the latter was severely hit during the RAF strike on the night of 28/29 January 1944 -677 bombers raided Berlin- by a stick of incendiary bombs that caused severe damage to the building’s roof and the skylights after major fires were started. The museum was hit again during the big US strike on Berlin-Mitte on 3 February 1945 (with 937 heavy bombers): several bombs caused great damage on the building, including the Mschatta facade room and destroyed the footbridge which linked the Kaiser-Museum. Some bombs caused severe destruction to the Museumsinsel on March 18th, 1945 (1,263 Eighth Air Force bombers) with the adjacent Altes Museum taking the worst damage, gutted by fire and left in a ruined state. 

Further damage was inflicted during the Soviet assault on the Third Reich’s Hauptstadt during April-May 1945, but the museum structure survived mostly intact to the ground battles. Artillery shells, splinters and small-arms fire damaged the facade and windows. Finally, on May 1st, Red Army’s troops took the northern part of the island and occupied the museums.

[The courtyard of the partially destroyed Pergamon Museum as seen after the 1945 air-bombings. Note that one of the twin-towers has collapsed due to the damage taken.]

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz (ZA 1.1.6./07218).

The facade of the building was completely scarred by shrapnel and explosions from bombs and fire, of which evidence remains today, and by the intense fighting that took place on its perimeter. These pictures show bullet holes and shrapnel marks on the north wing of the museum, in 1945. The S-Bahn railway is seen at left.

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 1.1.6./06858).

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 1.1.6./06815)

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 1.1.6./06712).

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 1.1.6./06897).

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 1.1.6./06866).

Although the several rooms and halls inside the building been secured from the ‘Bombenkrieg’ in 1940-41 by Nazi authorities with some Schutzhüllen consisting of sandbags and wooden walls, they took severe damage during Allied air raids on the city.

The monumental Prozessionsstraße at the museum which led to the Neo-Babylon Ishtar Gate (or Babylontor) was left in this devastated condition during the war.

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 2.19./08755).

The main hall of the museum, which housed the reconstructed Great Altar is seen after the war with severe damage to the walls, the stairway and the colonnade. The destroyed glass roof allowed further damage with debris and exposure to elements.

Photo: bpk/ Max Ittenbach.

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 2.2./08420).

Photo: ©bpk - Photo Agency/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

Views of the partly destroyed Markttor von Milet (Market Gate of Miletus) and the Trajanshalle at Saal V of the museum, 1945. 

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 1.1.6./06766).

Photo: bpk/ Max Ittenbach.

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 2.2./08422).

War damage to the Sendschirli-Saal of the Vorderasiatischen Museums at Pergamon’s building, 1945. Notice that one bomb has penetrated the room’s roof. 

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 2.19./08758).

Picture evidence show that incendiary bombs did their job on Pergamonmuseum. Both British and US bombers dropped incendiaries in great numbers over German cities and these small but deadly weapons set on fire the skylight and glass roof of the building on both wings, leaving just the ‘skeleton’ metal structure and penetrating into the rooms, and burnt out walls and damaged artifacts inside. The Mschatta-Saal was one of the most heavily hit by these bombs, the first time during the January 1944 RAF raids.

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 2.11./03265).

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 2.2./08421).

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 2.2./08447).

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 1.1.6./06849).

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 1.1.6./06845).

These two pictures were taken from the partly museum’s destroyed roof and with camera facing east, showing the ruined and flattened buildings of the city after five years of sustained air bombings. The elevated train station seen at centre is S-Bahnhof Hackescher Markt, with James-Simon Park and Burgstraße just before it. Note the rounded roof of the Alte Nationalgalerie at right.

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 1.1.6./06816).

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 1.1.6./06821).

The aerial bombings hit the footbridge which linked Pergamonmuseum and the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (today the Bode Museum) too, adjacent to the elevated S-Bahn railway, seen here in 1951.

Photo: ©Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Zentralarchiv (ZA 1.1.5-7733).

The transition between the two buildings under the railway was severely damaged too.

Photo: ©Zentralarchiv/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ZA 1.1.6./06853).

This view of Berlin’s Museumsinsel taken in May 1945 from the Schlossbrücke by Soviet troops allow us to see in the background the roofless condition of the Pergamon Museum’s skylight, gutted by fire after five years of air raids and the final battle. Note the damaged Zeughaus building at left and the ‘Panzersperre’ barricade on the bridge.

Photo via Piet Vergiet.

An aerial guide of the destruction at the Museumsinsel caused by the air raids, this US reconnaissance image was taken by PR aircraft in March 1945 over Berlin-Mitte.

Photo: NARA: sortie US7/0072/D. frame: 4167. ©BerlinLuftTerror.


Bibliography and sources:

  • Allen, Susan Heuck (1999). Finding the Walls of Troy: Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlik. University of California Press.
  • Demps, Laurenz. (2014). Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag. 
  • Heilmeyer, Wolf-Dieter. (1996). History of the Display of the Telephos Frieze in the Twentieth Century. In: Dreyfus, R (ed). PERGAMON: The Telephos Frieze from the Great Altar, Volume 1. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
  • Landesarchiv Berlin; LAB, A Rep. 005-07, Nr. 559, o. Bl.
  • Middlebrook, Martin and Everett, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. Reprint Edition 2014.
  • Pollitt, Jerome J. (1986). Art in the Hellenistic Age. Cambridge University Press.
  • Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Klartext Zur Geschichte des Bode-Museums von 1875 bis 2020: Chronologie
  • Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Pergamonmuseum
  • Wemhoff, Matthias. (2014). Das Berliner Museum für Vor-und Frühgeschichte in der Zeit des Nationalsozialiusmus. In: Blickpunkt Archäologie 3, 2014, S. 40-43.
  • Winter, Petra. Invasion auf der Insel: 75 Jahre Kriegsende auf der Museumsinsel. Blog der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz [accessed May 2024]


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