August 12, 2005

Queen Nefertiti returns to old Berlin haunts

BERLIN (Reuters) - A famous bust of Egyptian queen
Nefertiti, regarded by many as a Mona Lisa of the ancient
world, has returned to Berlin's Museum Island, 66 years after
being evacuated at the outbreak of World War Two.

Ever since its first public exhibition in 1923, the
precision of the 3,300-year-old sculpture's symmetrical lines
and its finely wrought features have drawn thousands of
admirers from around the globe.

On show for most of the past 40 years at the Egyptian
Museum in west Berlin's Charlottenburg district -- separated by
the Berlin Wall from her former home in the east of the city --
Nefertiti has become an icon of the German capital.

German curators say they are confident of keeping her,
despite an Egyptian campaign for her return.

Egyptian officials last month named the Nefertiti bust and
the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum in London among five
precious artifacts held abroad which they want to bring home
with mediation from the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO.

"She's flawless," said Peter-Klaus Schuster,
general-director of Berlin's state museums, "although we have
recently discovered that she has a few wrinkles. She's not an
idealized woman, she actually looked like that in real life."

The 50 cm (20 inch)-high bust arrived in Berlin's Altes
Museum late on Thursday night under tight security.

The plaster and limestone sculpture is due to remain there
until 2009, when it will go on display in its original home,
the neighboring Neues Museum, which is under restoration.

Schuster told Reuters the sculpture's fascination lay not
only in its serene beauty, but also in its ability to captivate
with an expression as mysterious as the Mona Lisa's.

"She has this impenetrable unwavering gaze," he said. "I
think every visitor feels like she's looking at them."

The bust of Nefertiti, whose name can be roughly translated
to mean "the beautiful one has come," was found in Egypt in
1912 at Tell el-Amarna, the short-lived capital of Nefertiti's
husband, the Pharaoh Akhenaten, who some believe was the father
of Tutankhamun.

Standing before the 12-foot (3.5 meter) reinforced-glass
case which now houses the sculpture, Schuster said no price
could be put on Nefertiti's head.

"It's mystical money," he said. "Beyond any sum."