Her name means “the beautiful woman has come” – and anyone who sees the bust of Nefertiti is sure to fall under her spell. Nefertiti’s smile, as mysterious as the Mona Lisa, her captivating beauty and the aura of this remarkable work make a visit to the Neues Museum a highlight on any Berlin tour.
Berlin’s Museum Island (Museumsinsel) is a magnificent total art work, a truly outstanding ensemble of five world-renowned museums. Apart for the legendary bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, the most famous and important cultural exhibits on show here include the breathtaking Pergamon Altar and the stunning Ishtar Gate. In 1999, the Museum Island complex was inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage.
One Island – Five Museums
The first museum on the island was the Altes Museum (Old Museum). Opened in 1830, it was designed to give the general public access to collections of art and historically important objects and artefacts. This nineteenth-century notion of a museum as a public institution celebrating great works of art had its roots in the Age of Enlightenment and its educational ideals. Already known as the Museum Island by the late 1870s, the ensemble of five museums was finally completed in 1930.
In the modern period, the collections of rulers and princes came to be seen not just as a resource for scholarship and knowledge, but also a source of national pride. In that spirit, the very first public museums were founded in the eighteenth century. In Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II was instrumental in the construction of the Altes Museum, which opened its doors as Prussia’s pioneering public museum in 1830. The neo-classical design was by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Prussia’s leading nineteenth-century architect.
Nearly thirty years later, the Altes Museum was joined by the second Royal Prussian museum - today’s Neues Museum (New Museum). In 1876, a national gallery – now the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) – was added. The final two museums on Museum Island were only constructed in the early twentieth century: the Kaiser Friedrich Museum – today’s Bode-Museum – opened in 1904, and the Pergamon Museum in 1930. Fortunately, the plans for a gigantomaniac rebuild under the Nazi regime were never realised. The Second World War left much of the Museum Island badly damaged, and the Neues Museum in ruins. In the post-1945 era, the Museum Island was in East Germany. The reconstruction began under the GDR regime, although the Neues Museum was left as a ruin.
Master Plan Museum Island
In 1999, ten years after the fall of the Wall, the Board of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz) agreed on a master plan to comprehensively refurbish the museums. The plan envisaged rebuilding the Neues Museum, as well as restoring all the other four museums. In addition, to integrate the individual buildings more closely in a single ensemble, they will be connected on basement level by an Archaeological Promenade presenting the major themes of cultural history by drawing on all collections on Museum Island. Taking the Louvre as a model, the entire ensemble is to have one single entrance. This new entrance building, known as the James-Simon-Galerie, is scheduled to open in 2018.
The Museum Island’s Five Museums
Designed by architect Alfred Messel, the Pergamon Museumattracts around one million visitors every year, making it Berlin’s most popular museum. Under the Master Plan Museum Island, the refurbishment of the Pergamon Museum is ongoing until 2025. In this process, the museum, originally designed with three wings, will have a fourth wing added. The large room showing the Pergamon Altar is presently closed until 2019. However, visitors can still view the remarkable Ishtar Gate and Processional Way, the impressive Roman Market Gate of Miletus, and the fascinating collection in the Museum of Islamic Art. The new wing with glass façades will be showing the Kalabscha Gate, the columned hall of Pharaoh Sahure, and the Tell Halaf façade. You can book your tickets here.
The Bode-Museum’s general refurbishment and renovation was concluded in 2005. Now, in its new splendour, it houses an extensive collection of sculptures from the medieval period to the late eighteenth century, as well as treasures from the Museum of Byzantine Art and the Numismatic Collection. The museum is located at the northern tip of Museum Island. In summer, the opposite bank of the river with its wonderful view is a popular place to meet and relax. You can book your tickets here.
Work started on the original Neues Museum (New Museum) in 1841. Designed by Prussian master builder and court architect Friedrich August Stüler, the construction alone was a sensation. Not only did the design extensively use prefabricated cast and wrought iron structural elements, but steam power was the main source of energy on the site. In the Second World War, the museum was severely damaged and it remained a ruin until 1999. Rebuilding and refurbishing the museum took ten years, a process led by the offices of the renowned architect David Chipperfield. Since the museum’s spectacular reopening in 2009, it has presented a selection of outstanding pieces from the Egyptian Museum, the Papyrus Collection, the Museum of Prehistory and Early History, and the Collection of Classical Antiquities. The famous bust of the Ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti is the showpiece exhibit in the Neues Museum.
TheAlte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), set on a plinth, rises impressively over the Museum Island rather like a “temple of the arts”. And with Prussian court architect Friedrich August Stüler inspired by the Acropolis in Athens, his design resonated with just that quasi-religious mood of the muses. After nearly ten years work, the gallery was opened in 1876. It now not only shows painting and sculpture from the neoclassical period through Romanticism to the Biedermeier period (1815-1848), but also Impressionist and early modernist art. The collection includes works by such renowned artists as Caspar David Friedrich, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Auguste Renoir, Max Liebermann, Lovis Corinth, Adolphe Menzel, Karl Blechen and Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The gallery is also home to Johann Gottfried Schadow’s Princesses Luise and Friederike, regarded as the most beautiful sculpture by a Prussian artist. You can book your tickets here.
Designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the Altes Museum (Old Museum) was opened in 1830 as the first museum on Museum Island. At that time, the striking neoclassical façade structured by Ionic columns, expansive foyer and attractive rotunda were quite exceptional for a public building. Today, after refurbishment, the museum is home to a permanent exhibition showcasing the arts and sculpture from classical antiquity, from ancient Greece to the Roman Empire, including portrait busts of Caesar and Cleopatra. An especial highlight is the collection of Etruscan art, the largest outside Italy. You can book your tickets here.
Hints and tips for your visit
Museum Island is easily accessible by all forms of public transport in Berlin. You can take the underground using the U6, or S-Bahn lines S1, S2, S25, S5, S7 or S75. The S-Bahn stop of Hackescher Markt is just 15 minutes walk away from the Island. The M1 and M12 trams stop at nearby Kupfergraben, less than 5 minutes walk away. The Lustgarten bus stop is 600m away from Pergamonmuseum and can be reached on buses 100 and 200. You can use the Berlin Welcome Card Museum Island to explore all the museums on Museum Island over three consecutive days. With a Museum Pass Berlin you can visit 30 other museums in Berlin for free. Entry for children and young people up to the age of 18 is generally free.
Museum Island – Opening hours
Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat/Sun 10am - 6pm , Thursday 10am - 8pm; museums are closed on mondays
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