In 1899 the diplomat and archaeological explorer Baron Max von Oppenheim (1860–1946), a scion of the Cologne banking family, discovered the residence of an Aramaean ruler of the early first millennium BC at Tell Halaf in modern-day Syria. The find was an archaeological sensation of the first order. Oppenheim had found the ruins of the Old-Testament city of Gozan (Guzana). The celebrated Western Palace was embellished with monumental stone sculptures and fantastical stone reliefs. A tomb yielded over-life-size funerary figures and valuable funerary goods.
From Cologne to Cairo – Max von Oppenheim as Attaché, Orientalist and Archaeologist
The exhibition traces Max von Oppenheim’s eventful biography and his lifelong love for the East which found expression in each and every one of the lavish oriental costumes and accessories he amassed in his private collection. Having studied law in Germany, Max von Oppenheim was drawn to Cairo, where he learned Arabic and immersed himself in the pleasures of an Oriental lifestyle. A relatively undistinguished diplomat, Oppenheim was catapulted into the limelight of German Near and Middle Eastern archaeology by his discovery of the Tell Halaf in 1899 – a time when renowned German archaeologists were excavating Babylon and Assur. During the First World War Oppenheim’s familiarity with the region became a strategic asset, and he – like T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) on the British side – was drawn into the thick of the political conflict.
The Tell Halaf Museum in Berlin, its Destruction in 1943 and the Restoration of the Finds between 2001 and 2010
In 1929 Max von Oppenheim brought numerous Tell Halaf finds to Berlin, where he opened his own museum in 1930. Among the illustrious visitors who signed the visitors’ book were Samuel Beckett, Agatha Christie, Emil Nolde and Max Beckmann. The Tell Halaf finds – destroyed during a night-time bombing raid on Berlin in 1943 and painstakingly restored some sixty years later – tell the story of a 3000-year-old civilisation, but they have also become a poignant reminder of Germany’s recent history.
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