The Bust of Nefertiti: A Chronology




in Berlin


claim for repatriation






post-war period


intra-German dispute


critical voices


European campaign


art event Biennale


loan request


100 years DAI


Discovery of the Bust of Nefertiti

On 6th December 1912 the Bust of Nefertiti was discovered together with a number of other finds by the German archaeologist, Prof. Ludwig Borchardt and his team in excavations of the sculpture workshop of Thutmosis in Tell el-Amarna. The archaeologist was delighted with the bust. "It's no use describing it, you have to see it!" he wrote in his diary shortly after the find.

The local supervision of all archaeological activities lay in the hands of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities. At this time the French carried out these duties, although Egypt had been under British rule since 1882. Egypt did not exist as an independent state at that time.


Inspection and division of the finds by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities

Following years of plundering in Egypt, rules were introduced relating to the division of the excavated cultural objects. Thus all finds from a dig were to be presented to the Egyptian Department of Antiquities. It had the right to the best pieces and to half of the total items.

On 20th January 1914, at Borchardt´s dig, the French Director General of the Department of Antiquities, Gaston Maspero, designated the archaeologist Gustave Lefebvre to divide out the finds. He was later quoted as saying that he could not remember the division of the finds very well. The exact details of the division have still not been clarified.

At the latest on 11th January 1913, nine days after the division, Borchardt found a large chalk tablet with a colourful portrayal of Nefertiti and Echnaton, showing a remarkable similarity to the bust. He must have realised that the bust was a portrayal of Nefertiti. Further the entry in his diary shows that he had recognised the beauty of the bust immediately after it was found.


Nefertiti's journey to Berlin

The bust was put on board ship with the other finds and finally reached Berlin in the course of the year. Dr. Simon, the financier of the dig and thus its owner, first exhibited the bust in his residence. In October 1913 he handed the bust and other finds from the dig to the Berlin Museum on permanent loan.


The exhibition of all the finds - except Nefertiti - in Berlin

The complete collection from the Tell el-Amarna dig was presented to the public in a great exhibition in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin in the winter of 1913/14. Nefertiti, two days before still part of the exhibition at the reception of Kaiser Wilhelm II, was however removed again. It was kept secret at the wish of Borchardt who feared difficulties with Egypt.


Disputes about the public display of Nefertiti

A dispute arose within the museum about whether Nefertiti should be kept secret. This culminated in a resolution passed by the Commission of Experts on 1.06.1918. This demanded that the secrecy surrounding Nefertiti should cease "as it was arousing the suspicions that its acquisition may have been not correct in some ways."

Borchardt pleaded for retention of the secrecy to gain time. He feared that permission to export items from current digs and to commence new digs might be limited or refused.


Nefertiti donated to the Berlin Museum

James Simon transformed the permanent loan of the finds from the dig into a gift to the museum. This gift contained a total of 5000 objects. .


Egypt learns of Nefertiti's existence

Borchardt could no longer enforce the secrecy around Nefertiti. He had no choice. Therefore he presented her in detail, with superb photographs, in his publication 'Porträts der Königin Nofret-ete'. This was dated 1934 and finally appeared in 1924. In the same year the bust was made accessible to the public in the Berlin Museum.

Egypt reacted with amazement and outrage. When the government in Cairo recognised that they had been defrauded more than 10 years before, they demanded the return of the bust.


Egypt's reaction

In May, P. Lacau (the successor to Maspero) as expected restricted the regulations concerning concessions for digs and abolished the method of division, which had been practised up to this time. He also attempted to clear up what had happened. He spoke with Borchardt about the division of the finds. Borchardt answered that he did not have the authority to inform the Egyptian officials of their duties. As a member of the Egyptian Comite d´Egyptologie he would, however, have been obliged to do this.


The beginning of many years of negotiations

Egypt suggested that a court of arbitration be called on to decide the case. The German side rejected this.

Borchardt was refused a further dig in Amarna unless Nefertiti was returned. The dig in Amarna was the last carried out by the Berlin Museum in Egypt till this day. For years German Egyptologists were persona non grata in Egypt.


Egypt has a new negotiation position

Egypt took up a new position. The division of the finds had taken place according to best information on both sides, but both sides must have made mistakes. For moral reasons, therefore, the head should be returned. This attitude offered both sides the opportunity to reach a mutually acceptable solution without loss of face.The Germans however insisted on their view that the division of the finds had been legally correct.


Objects to be exchanged for the bust


In October 1929 Lacau came to Berlin for negotiations with Prof. Schäfer, then director of the Egyptian Museum. In the presence of the director general of the Prussian museums W. Waetzoldt it was agreed in principle on an exchange of the bust: the Bust of Nefertiti as an object for exchange against the life-size statue of Ranofer. Egypt finally agreed to the German requirements and offered Berlin the Ranofer and other very valuable piece from the museum in Cairo in exchange. All the experts consulted by the Prussian Minister for Culture, Adolf Grimme, held the offered objects to be more valuable and were in favour of the exchange, in particular Prof. Schäfer.


Politicial wrangling over the exchange of Nefertiti


Those against the return of the bust succeeded in provoking a press campaign against Schäfer. This led to the general director of the State Museums, privy counsellor Waetzoldt, and Grimme capitulating and calling off the exchange. After this the former owner of the bust, Dr. James Simon, published an open letter in the evening edition of the "Berliner Tageblatt" of 28th June 1930. He spoke out in favour of the exchange, as Egypt was offering just the objects demanded by the German side. But the final deciding body was the ministry and the federal parliament.


Further efforts by the Egyptians

The Egyptian government continued its efforts regarding the repatriation of the bust with the national socialist government.

Hermann Göring, responsible for the Berlin museums in his capacity as Prussian Prime Minister, planned the return of Nefertiti to Egypt for the 10th October 1933 and informed the Egyptian Embassy. But a dispute arose thereafter. Hitler wanted to keep the bust in the capital city at all costs. After long struggles and discussions, Adolf Hitler put his foot down and ended the dispute in 1935. The discussions with Egypt were discontinued and the bust remained in Berlin.


Egypt becomes independent

Egypt became formally independent of the British colonial power, troops remained stationed in the country, however.


Evacuation of Nefertiti

At the beginning of the war in August 1939 the museums were closed and art treasures were evacuated. Nefertiti was put in storage 1939 at first into the cellar of the Prussian Governmental Bank and in autumn 1941 in the tower of a flak bunker in Berlin.


Nefertiti's journey to the West

On 6th March 1945, directly before the Red Army conquered Berlin, Nefertiti and other cultural treasures were moved 'by decree of the Führer' to the mine in Merkers/Kaiseroda in Thuringia.

In the same month American troops brought her to Frankfurt together with Prussia's gold and silver reserves.

On 20th August the bust was moved from there to the general store of art treasures in Wiesbaden.


Intra-German conflict over Nefertiti and the Prussian state property

An intra-German conflict developed concerning the ownership of Nefertiti and the other cultural assets of the Prussian State moved due to the war.

The representatives of the Eastern zone held the opinion that the items formerly in the State Museums and moved out of Berlin during the Second World War were being illegally kept from them. They based their arguments on the principal of provenance and demanded the return of art works and books to the exact places they had been before the war.

The representatives of the Western zones referred to the Federal German legal position and refused to part with these items.


Egypt addressed claim for restitution to the Americans

At the beginning of 1946 the Egyptian prime minister sought the official support of the American government and demanded the restitution of Nefertiti.

The Museum of Modern Art suggested to the State Department that the statue be brought to New York, to set up a spectacular exhibition and then return the bust to Egypt.

Finally in May the US State Department refused to return the bust to Egypt. The decision was not their responsibility. It was a legal question to be cleared with a future German government before international courts.

In February Nefertiti was shown to the public again for the first time as part of an exhibition of the collecting point in Wiesbaden.


Continuing attempts by Egypt

Attempts were made via the embassies in Washington and Berlin to achieve restitution of Nefertiti - but in vain. The government of the FRG remained firm on its position that their ownership was not in doubt at all.


Egypt attains full sovereignty

The former British colonial power withdrew its troops from Egypt. Thus Egypt gained full sovereignty for the first time.

The bust returned to Berlin

The bust travelled from Wiesbaden back to Berlin, where it was exhibited in Dahlem.


Creation of the 'Prussian Cultural Property Foundation'

The Federal government and the countries of the former Western allies set up the foundation. All property of the former State of Prussia was transferred to it. The right of disposal concerning Nefertiti and the other objects still does not lie with the foundation but with the German Parliament and the Federal States.

The GDR protested against the transfer of the collections to the Prussian Cultural Property Foundation and laid claim to the lawful possession.


New exchange object offered

Egypt tried to revive the blocked discussions and offered Rommel's marshal's baton as a new object for exchange.


Diplomatic relations broken off

Despite the claim of the West Germans to represent Germany alone, Egypt maintained contacts to the GDR. The FRG felt provoked by this and cancelled economic aid to Egypt.

Egypt in its turn felt provoked by the delivery of West German arms to Israel, a country it was involved in conflicts with from time to time. When the FRG then took up diplomatic relations to Israel, almost all the Arab states including Egypt broke off diplomatic relations to the FRG.


Nefertiti moves again

The bust was now exhibited in the Egyptian museum in Charlottenburg.


Egypt's gift to Germany: the Temple Gate of Kalabsha

President Sadat presented the blocks of the Kalabsha Gate to the Federal Republic in the name of the Egyptian people in gratitude for the saving of the Nubian temple threatened by Assuan Dam.


Nefertiti's symbolic significance

The dispute about the former Prussian State property reached a new peak in the intra-German negotiations on a cultural agreement. They were abandoned after three years without success. In the course of these discussions, Nefertiti became something of a national symbol both on the political level and also for the public. West Berlin, at that time an island within the GDR, gained particularly in repute due to its cultural treasures. Nefertiti became regarded as representing these treasures and thus became a symbol of the city itself.


Egypt's intervention in the inner-German dispute

Egypt became involved in the inner-German dispute and demanded of both parties that they return Nefertiti to her country of origin instead of disputing ownership.


Exhibition 'Nefertiti - Echnaton'

Cairo provided 71 items on loan for this exhibition. They were on view in Munich and in Berlin and some other places.


'Tutankhamun' exhibition in Germany

The Tutankhamun exhibition was opened under the patronage of the Egyptian President El-Sadat and Federal President Karl Carstens. Cairo offered the possibility to view these fascinating treasures from the burial chamber of the legendary Pharaoh in Germany from 16.2.1980 to 19.7.1981. This was a historic event. The visitor numbers exceeded all expectations.


'Nefertiti wants to go home'

Herbert Ganslmayr and Gerd v. Paczensky published a book with this title. A museum director and a journalist questioned the role of Europe as a treasure trove of objects from the "Third World" and investigated the justification for claims for restitution from the countries of origin. Nefertiti was the centre of these investigations. This book became a standard work on this topic in the following years.


'Nefert' the Beautiful: the woman in ancient Egypt

The Egyptian Antiquities Organisation in Cairo again permitted many cultural assets to be brought to Germany for this exhibition.


1989 The Egyptian President of State Mohamed Mubarak viewed the bust and announced that Nefertiti was the best ambassador for Egypt in Berlin.


Reunification of the Egyptian collections

Since the war the collections had been divided up. Now these were brought together again, at least on an organisational level. The reassembly of the museums objects is to be completed in stages in the New Museum on its original site on the Museum Island.


Campaign for restitution by Medico International


At the end of 1990 Medico International started the campaign 'Movement for the restitution of cultural assets', continuing until the 500 year jubilee of the conquest of Latin America in 1992. A large number of copies of some chapters of the book 'Nefertiti wants to go home' were published as a brochure. The topic was picked up at several events. In addition German anthropological museums were addressed and requested that parts of their collections were repatriated to their countries of origin. The few representatives of the museums that reacted at all categorically denied the request.

Parliamentary initiave


Brigitte Schumann, speaker of the Green parliamentary party on cultural politics in the state parliament of North-Rhine Westfalia, addressed the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Property with doubts as to whether it was "entirely legal for the bust to remain in Berlin". She and her Berlin colleague Albert Eckert supported the claim made in Gerd von Paczensky´s book 'Nefertiti wants to go home' that the bust should at least be alternately exhibited in Cairo and in Berlin. Mr. Eckert of the Alternative List of the Green Party in Berlin spoke against the complete return of the bust.


Return of Nefertiti for the new museum in Egypt

In an interview with the Spiegel magazine, the Egyptian Minister for Culture Farouk Hosny demanded the return of Nefertiti. He pointed out that one of the largest and most modern museums of the world was being constructed in Egypt and the bust was the return of the bust was imperative as an exhibit for this museum.


Egypt's campaign for restitution

Egypt began a massive campaign for the restitution of ancient artefacts from international museums. Following the inauguration of Zahi Hawass as the head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, increasing efforts were made to achieve the return of exhibits from the era of the Pharaohs from various international collections.


Nefertiti as an art event

Dietrich Wildung, director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, allowed the bust to be used for an art event by the artist duo András Gálol and Bálint Havas. The artists had the bust placed and photographed on an almost naked bronze body. It was presented as a video installation at the Bienalle in Venice and provoked a wave of protest from the Egyptian side.

The Egyptian Minister for Culture Farouk Hosny said that the art event was an act of sabotage and that Nefertiti was "not in safe hands" in Berlin. In the previous years the Egyptians had not renewed their claims for restitution "due to the good relations with Germany", but this "recent behaviour" was unacceptable.

Wildung and his wife, herself director of the Egyptian Museum in Munich, were banned for the future from excavations in Egypt and the contact with them was to be broken off from the Egyptian side.

The Egyptian government decided to seek assistance from UNESCO for the return of Nefertiti and sent an urgent letter of protest to the General Director.

In Berlin the Egyptian Museum was not answering any queries and removed the announcement of the art event from its website without further comment. Wildung described the purpose of the event as advertising for the museum for a limited period.


The positions harden

The Egyptian newspaper Egypt Today reported that Hawass had described the bust of Nefertiti as the most important cultural asset. She was being claimed back as she had left Egypt illegally (covered in a layer of soot). Hawass spoke in an official capacity of fraud in connection with the events of 1913.

Dietrich Wildung described the reaction of Hawass as unnecessarily aggressive and uncooperative. There could be no discussion about a return.

Since then, the topic has almost only been taken up by the media.


Construction starts on the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation

In Egypt construction work started on the largest museum in the Arab world. It is being set up on the archaeological site of El Fustat to the south-east of Cairo. The costs of 500 million US dollars are being met by the Egyptian state. This museum will also offer a condign for the returning antiquities.


"The bust was not exported legally"

The new director of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Wafaa El-Saddik, demanded the return of the bust. In her opinion the bust was not exported legally to Germany in 1913 and must therefore be returned to Egypt.


Nefertiti on loan

Wafaa El-Saddik requested that Germany return the bust on loan for a two-month exhibition, but without success.


'The golden hereafter, Tutankhamun - Burial Treasures from the Valley of the Kings'

After more than 20 years the fascinating treasures could be viewed in Europe again together with further rich finds dating from the 18th dynasty. From 4th November 2004 to 1st May 2005 the Art and Exhibition Hall in Bonn showed 120 objects on loan from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.


The case of Nefertiti before UNESCO

At the meeting of the 'UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin' in Paris, the head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, presented the case of five objects of art from Egypt´s cultural heritage including the bust of Nefertiti from the museum in Berlin. He requested mediation. As the German side is not prepared to negotiate on the claim on principle, the UNESCO has not yet been able to commence its task.

Zahi Hawass suggested that countries claiming restitution should work together, the first step being the creation of a common list of cultural objects which are the subject of claims.

Nefertiti on the road again

The Nefertiti bust left Charlottenburg on 28th February 2005 and was next seen in the special exhibition 'Hieroglyphs about Nefertiti' in the Culture Forum. After that, she travelled to the Egyptian Museum on the Museum Island.


Joint Nefertiti exhibition in Cairo and Berlin requested

The director of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, El-Saddik, repeated the fundamental claim for the return of Nefertiti during her visit to Berlin. For the moment however she suggested a Nefertiti exhibition in which the bust of Nefertiti and portrayals of Nefertiti from Egypt would be brought together and exhibited in Berlin and in Cairo. She emphasised that "the fear we would keep Nefertiti in Egypt is unfounded".

In Cairo work is taking place on the restoration of the sarcophagus of Echnaton. Saddik requested a fragment of this to be returned from the Berlin Museum. Director Wildung is going to put the question to the foundation and can imagine that the reaction will be positive.


'Egypt's sunken treasures' and the wish for Nefertiti on loan

Egypt granted us the honour of hosting the worldwide opening of the spectacular exhibition on 12.05.06 in Berlin. For the first time around 500 archaeological underwater finds were exhibited. More than 450,000 people viewed these unique art treasures at the opening exhibition in Berlin.


At the official opening, President of state Mubarak and Federal President Köhler were both present. Hawass expressed the wish for a "visit by Queen Nefertiti". An exhibition is being planned for November 2007 in Cairo on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the German Archaeological Institute. Hawass would like to show Nefertiti in this exhibition and offered "a beautiful piece from Egypt" in exchange for this period. At the same time the Council of Antiquities declared itself prepared to provide all the customary international guarantees that Nefertiti would return to Berlin after the close of the exhibition.

Even this plea for a limited loan was sharply refused by the German side. A speaker for the State Museums in Berlin reacted with the words "the lady is not prepared to travel after 3000 years." This was given wide coverage in the German media. The Berlin museum director also refused to respond to the request, and repeated the statement that Nefertiti did not want to leave Germany and that all recognised international agreements confirmed Germany's legal right to the ownership of the bust.


Identification of the people of Berlin with the Egyptian queen welcomed

On 16.07.06, on the occasion of the unveiling of the bust by Paul Simon, the Egytian ambassador Al Orabi honoured "the great patron ... how good that Germany's capital does not only identify itself with the Brandenburg gate but also with an Egyptian queen."


Renewed claim for restitution

Hawass announced that he regarded it as his international target for the year 2007 to arrange for Nefertiti to come to Egypt with the support of archaeologists from all over the world. He therefore invited China, Greece, Mexico, Italy, Syria and Lebanon to a meeting in Cairo to create a communal international list of the items for which they are demanding the loan or complete restitution.


"1 Euro of the museum entrance fee for Egypt"

Museum director El-Saddik brought up a new idea for discussion: "We are thinking of talking to museums all over the world that show Egyptian exhibits and sell entrance tickets. Egypt should receive one Euro or one dollar per ticket. These museums earn a lot of money with art treasures that come from Egypt."


'Lepsius - the German expeditions to the Nile'

Egypt recalled and honoured the great German Egyptologist with a great three-month exhibition in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo from 1st November 2006 and in doing so set a new signal in cultural politics. For this exhibition, however, Berlin only provided sketches and none of the 1500 archaeological objects from Lepsius' collection which includes three complete burial chambers.


Ratification of the UNESCO agreement and passing of the law on realisation

On 1st February the Federal Parliament agreed on the ratification of the 1970 UNESCO agreement on the prohibition and the prevention of illegal imports, exports and transfer of ownership of cultural assets. It also passed a law on the realisation of this agreement. The law provides the legal foundation for claims for restitution between states which are signatories to the agreement. It has no relevance to the case of Nefertiti as it does not have any retrospective application.


Start of the campaign 'Nefertiti travels'

With a letters patent addressed to the Cultural Minister Bernd Neumann the campaign started on April 12, 2007. The next day he responded publicly and refused the demanded loan reasoning that the bust can't be transported for conservatory reasons.

On April 14 the head of the SCA Hawass reacted and criticised Neumanns response in front of the Egyptian parliament. He announced sanctions to be taken in case that the loan will be inhibited by Germany. He will officially request the loan of the bust for the opening of the new museum in 2012 in a letter to the German Cultural Minister. Cultural Minister Hosny commented: Germany is making a "mistake", if it refuses the loan. "The Egyptians have the right to admire the rare examples of their antiquities, located in foreign countries."

Since the start of the campaign there has been intense press coverage on national and international level. The campaign caused also a parliamentarian initiative in the Bundestag.

On 5th April the exhibition 'Egypt´s sunken treasures' opens in Bonn.


100-year jubilee of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Cairo

The DAI and the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities will sponsor the celebration jointly. On 12th November a special exhibition is to be opened in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo presenting selected finds from various excavations by the institute. Hawass requested the loan of Nefertiti for this exhibition. From 11th to 15th November 2007 there will be official celebrations and an international symposium.


Were is Nefertiti going?

When the Museum Island has been reorganised, Nefertiti is to be moved to her final position in the New Museum in Berlin.

The Egyptians have also prepared a place of honour for Nefertiti in their National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation to be opened in 2009.



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