On the northern tip of the Spree island five museums form a unique ensemble that has gained a high reputation as UNESCO-World Heritage Site. In 1830 the Old Museum, designed by K. F. Schinkel, was opened and thus counts among the first museums in Germany. In 1841 King Friedrich Wilhelm IV., who was passionate about architecture, developed the idea of a great museum complex inspired by the Acropolis of Athens. This was the birth of Berlin's Museum Island. F. A. Stüler built the New Museum (opened in 1859) and the Old National Gallery (inaugurated in 1876). Up to 1904, the architect E. von Ihne followed with the Bode Museum and Ludwig Hoffmann accomplished the work of the century with the Pergamon Museum in 1930.
Schinkel's neoclassical museum building today exhibits the Antikensammlung (Collection of Classical Antiquities) focussing on sculpture, vases, inscriptions, mosaics, bronze objects as well as jewellery. The Old Museum’s fantastic rotunda, adorned with sculptures on the ground floor, provides an impressive ambience and is simply a must-see. The additional rooms on this level hold the Greek collection, a highlight being the sculpture of the Praying Boy. On the upper floor, the art of the Etruscans and Roman Empire are on display. Make sure you don't miss the busts of Caesar and Cleopatra which have been placed side by side for your enjoyment.
The New Museum houses two collections. The Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection is considered to be one of the most important collections on Ancient Egyptian Culture. The works from the time of King Akhenaten (from 1340 BC) – especially the bust of his Queen Nefertiti, which still has its original paint work – are a particularly interesting highlight in the collection. The Museum of Prehistory and Early History presents early European history from the Palaeolithic period up to the High Middle Ages. Special highlights include the part of Heinrich Schliemann's collection of Trojan antiquities which has remained in Berlin, the Bronze-Age “Berlin Gold Hat” as well as grave inventories from the Merovingian period.
If you love 19th century art, then a visit to the Old National Gallery is simply a must! Masterpieces of classicism (Karl Friedrich Schinkel), romanticism (Caspar David Friedrich) and the Biedermeier era (Carl Spitzweg) await the visitor. An additional focus of the collection lays on French Impressionism, with paintings by both Claude Monet as well as Auguste Renoir. The beginning of the modern age is represented by such artists as Edouard Manet, Paul Cézanne and Max Liebermann. The neoclassical princess group by Johann Gottfried Schadow, one of the most talented Prussian sculptors, is prominently placed among the sculptures.
Among the Bode-Museum's three collections, the sculptures – which range from works of the early Middle Ages to the 18th century – are what draw in the crowds. Emphasis is both on Italian as well as late gothic German sculpture, with masterpieces by Tilman Riemenschneider, Nicolaus Gerhaert von Leyden, Hans Brüggemann and many others. The Museum for Byzantine Art houses art and everyday objects of this region from the 3rd to the 15th century. The Numismatic Collection has its roots in the 16th century Kunstkammer of the Electors of Brandenburg and is now one of the largest coin collections in the world.
This museum is one of the world's most important institutions for ancient monumental architecture. Here you can discover the Collection of Classical Antiquities, the Museum for Islamic Art and the Museum of the Ancient Near East with magnificent art treasures. Among the museum's many highlights, you will encounter the fantastic second century BC Pergamon Altar, the imposing Processional Way of Babylon with the Ishtar Gate (6th/7th century BC) as well as the ornate Mschatta Façade (8th century). It is extremely impressive how these architectural exhibits have been integrated into the building. Be sure not to miss this absolute gem on Museum Island! Please note: Due to construction works some parts of the building – such as the room of the Pergamon Altar – cannot be visited currently!
In 1996, the Museum of Contemporary Art opened in what was once the terminus of the railway line between Hamburg and Berlin from the 1840s. Since then, the core of the permanent exhibition has been made up of the private collection of the Berlin entrepreneur Erich Marx. The museum is funded by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation which added works from the National Gallery's inventory, the Joseph Beuys Media Archive, the Marzona Collection and, since 2004, the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection. In Hamburger Bahnhof you can expect to find exhibits created by Beuys, Kiefer, Lichtenstein and Warhol along with temporary presentations of current contemporary artists.
This museum is a rare stroke of luck. In 1996, Heinz Berggruen originally only planned to loan out his private collection which he had built over thirty years. However, he loved the location in the Stülerbau opposite Charlottenburg Palace as well as the public's delighted response. Therefore he decided to generously sell his collection, then estimated to be worth 1.5 billion German marks, for a mere 253 million. Picasso is the main focus, with more than 100 of his works on display. Artists such as Paul Klee, Henri Matisse and Alberto Giacometti are also included in the museum. These names illustrate just what is in store for you: an enjoyable feast of classical modern art.
Dieter Scharf has made his private collection available on loan basis to the Berlin public since 2008. It is housed in the former Egyptian museum and delights the visitors with artwork from French Romanticism to Symbolism and Surrealism. The exhibition includes graphics by Piranesi, Goya, Manet and Klinger, paintings by Dalí, Dubuffet and Magritte and sculptures by Ernst. It is situated in the eastern Stülerbau and matches perfectly to Museum Berggruen's collection “Picasso and His Time” in the twin building on the opposite side of Schloßstraße. Our tip: Take the time to visit both exhibitions one after another.
This project emerged out of the dilemma of a divided city: Because Museum Island belonged to East Berlin, it was important for West Berlin to create its own cultural forum. In 1960, architect H. Scharoun blazed the trail with the fanciful Philharmonie concert hall. This was followed in 1968 by the Neue Nationalgalerie, designed by Mies van der Rohe. Scharoun's Staatsbibliothek was completed in 1978 and, at the same time, R. Gutbrod had won the competition for a larger museum complex. Because this structure was considered to have been disastrously planned, his contract was revoked directly after the Museum of Decorative Arts was completed. Between 1992 and 1998, Hilmer & Sattler achieved an architectural wonder by adding the Gemäldegalerie to the Kulturforum and, thus, were able to offer an appeasing highlight.
The Picture Gallery, which is the most important museum in Tiergarten's Kulturforum, awaits you with 7,000 square metres of exhibition space and a 2 km long tour along masterpieces of painting. The Northern Alpine section spans the time from the 15th to 18th century and shows the works of great artists such as van Eyck, van der Weyden, Bruegel, Dürer, Grien, Altdorfer, Cranach, Holbein, Rubens and Vermeer. The central Rembrandt room proudly displays 16 of the master's tableaux. Italian paintings from the 13th to the 16th century are an additional highlight, represented by well-known artists such as Giotto, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Signorelli, Bellini, Mantegna and Titian.
Don't let yourself be fooled by this small, but very noteworthy special exhibition: The Berlin Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings) is home to Germany's largest graphic art collection. The over 550,000 prints make up the core of the collection and are enhanced by 110,000 drawings, water colours, sketches and beautifully illustrated books. However, you must make a little effort to truly lose yourself in this treasury. Once you have registered, you can have the art you wish to see brought into the study room where you can individually enjoy and examine the pieces of your choice. You can't get any closer to Rembrandt and Goya than this!
Between 2012 and 2014, the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) was remodelled by the Berlin architecture firm Kuehn Malvezzi. The goal was to create new spatial structure within Rolf’s Gutbrod’s poorly planned 1980s building as well as modernise the museum experience. The collection includes both beautiful and practical objects – some cult, some commonplace – from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Design objects from the Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Bauhaus design movements are particularly popular. Fitting Berlin’s renaissance as an important fashion capital, the new permanent exhibition of European fashion from the eighteenth century until the present is a nice addition to the museum’s collection.
The German Historical Museum has been housed in the Zeughaus (armoury) since 1991. Spread across nearly 8,000 square metres, the permanent exhibition attempts to make 2000 years of German history come vividly alive in a European context. In 2003, a new building designed by Ieoh Ming Pei was inaugurated behind the Zeughaus. With four floors, it finally provided the badly needed space for temporary exhibitions. In 2009 the institution also started to run the foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation. The goal is to create a remembrance and documentation centre on flight and expulsion in the 20th century. Our tip: Youth up to 18 can visit the museum free of charge.
The headquarters of the Nazi terror apparatus, destroyed during the war, was once located on this site. The feared Secret State Police, better known as the Gestapo, were housed here starting in 1933. In 1939, they were joined by the headquarters of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt. The SS high command and the Security Service of the SS had already taken up residence in the neighbourhood in 1934. A site tour, divided into 15 stations, now provides information about the history of the area. In the new exhibition building from 2010 you can see, for example, a permanent exhibition on the crimes and modes of operation of the the SS headquarters and police during the Third Reich. Entrance is free of charge.
The terminal building for departing from East to West Berlin was built at Friedrichstraße railway station in 1962. Because citizens of East Germany were not allowed to travel freely, emotional and painful scenes often took place in front of the building between relatives and friends; they knew, once they said goodbye, they would not see each other for a long time. This earned the building the melancholy nickname Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears). In 2011, this authentic historical location finally became a museum and has since housed the permanent exhibition “BorderExperiences – Everyday Life in Divided Germany.” Entrance is free of charge.
This exhibition shows the various forms of German resistance towards National Socialism in 26 topic areas. It touches not only on the coups attempted by the military which took place between 1938 to 1944, but also on young people's opposition movements like the Edelweiss Pirates. To dare resistance during the Third Reich meant belonging to an ever shrinking section of the population and accepting the fairly good chance you would die for your convictions. The organisers of the exhibition luckily wear no ideological blinders; they display side by side military, Christian and communist resistance as well as resistance for moral reasons within a small area. Entrance is free of charge.