A myriad of worlds: The Berlin museums

Berlin boasts a mind-blowing plethora of no less than 176 museums, establishing the city’s incontestable status as historical and cultural hotspot of modern day Germany. Whether you plan to explore ancient archaeological arts, broaden your knowledge on German Expressionism, or intensify your dedication for American punk rock bands, Berlin offers an adequate museum for almost […]

Berlin boasts a mind-blowing plethora of no less than 176 museums, establishing the city’s incontestable status as historical and cultural hotspot of modern day Germany. Whether you plan to explore ancient archaeological arts, broaden your knowledge on German Expressionism, or intensify your dedication for American punk rock bands, Berlin offers an adequate museum for almost every conceivable subject. Despite being scattered all over the vast cityscape, Berlin’s most famous museum complexes are located on Museumsinsel, at the Kulturforum, around Schloss Charlottenburg and at Dahlem, the centre for non-European arts and cultures. Especially the prestigious Museum Island with its impressive collection of antiquities and ancient art and its Western counterpart, the Kulturforum with its fascinating galleries and captivating collections of paintings profoundly shape Berlin’s cultural landscape. These centralised museum complexes house Berlin’s most celebrated venues and are ideal for culture-heavy days of museum-hopping (make sure to make use of the day pass which presents culture for an affordable 4€ to students). These significant museums form part of the ‘Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’, a central association responsible for the organisation and administration of 17 major museums in Berlin. Although Berlin’s abounding museum landscape suffered devastating damages during WWII and the infrastructural consequences can still be felt up to this day. After the war and as an immediate consequence of the city’s division, the collections of the national museums were separated, yet since the reunification these precious collections have gradually been reassembled. Over the last 20 years, Berlin has invested an unfathomable amount of money into the arduous process of regeneration of its national museums. Besides the costly renovations, the city’s museum universe experiences a constant expansion of its multifaceted landscape as recent years have seen the emergence of new innovative museums, such as the Jewish Museum or the Museum of Photography. For many of the museums in Berlin, the buildings, their architectural design as well as their rich historical past, constitute an inherent part of the museums’ cultural space. Berlin is bursting with a multitude of different worlds inviting you to explore 3000 years of human history. Enjoy the adventure!

Museumsinsel
www.smb.museum.de
U-Bahn: U2, U5, U8 Alexanderplatz
Opening times (for all museums): 10.00-18.00
Tues-Wed, Fri-Sun. 10.00-22.00 Thurs, free entry after 18.00.
Tickets to one museum also grant you access to all the other permanent exhibitions on the Island.

An unavoidable destination on the itinerary of every self-acclaimed culture vulture travelling through Berlin’s exalted cultural landscape, Museumsinsel accommodates Berlin’s most celebrated museums. Wedged inbetween the Spree and Kupferinsel at the northern tip of the Spreeinsel, Museumsinsel hosts an incomparable ensemble of the outstanding history of Germany’s historical and cultural heritage. The origins of the Museumsinsel date back to 1810 and King Friedrich Wilhelm III’s desire to erect an ostentatious museum exhibiting the, back then, rather scant royal treasures. Ordered to come up with a suitable building, Friedrich Schinkel, in reminiscence of ancient temple architecture, designed the Altes Museum, labelled back then as the new museum, at least until the Neues Museum was unveiled in 1855 (you might have noticed that the Germans were not the most inventive when it came to naming their buildings). Over the course of the 19th century the Alte Nationalgalerie (1876), the Bode-Museum (1897-1904) and the Pergamonmuseum (1909-1930) were built, turning Museumsinsel into the archaeological and cultural centre of the Prussian state. The sumptuous baroque and neo-classical buildings represent landmarks of the Imperial era and provide you with a sometimes overpowering sense of classical architecture. If, at the time of its inauguration, the enormous halls and exhibition rooms were mostly empty, the imperial adventures of German explorers and archaeologists excavating (some might even say plundering) the archaeological sites in the Near and Middle East ensured that there would not be a shortage of fascinating artefacts to exhibit. Heavily destroyed during WWII (near 70% of the buildings were utterly devastated), the Museumsinsel has been gradually restructured, restored and rearranged in the post-war years. Stashed away in bunkers or hidden in secret locations, a lot of artefacts and artworks disappeared towards Russia along with Soviet troops or ended up in Western museums and Berlin’s brutal division engendered the further scattering of these collections. Fortunately, the reunification has reunited the majority of the impressive and previously-divided collections.

Yet, Museumsinsel is far from being completed as it is currently undergoing a major renovation process, due to finish in 2015, which will see the different museums interconnected with an archaeological promenade taking the visitor on a cultural journey through the centuries. The idea of linking up the various museums and creating a centralised complex follows Wilhelm von Bode’s concept of establishing a centre of arts and culture accessible for the general public. Once completed, the Museumsinsel will represent one of the most significant cultural institutions in the world. Sadly though, as the project is still on its way, some museums are closed or only partly open, and currently the Neues Museum (due to open its doors again in 2009) is completely shut while the Pergamonmuseum is undergoing local restorations (a complete closure is being avoided). Although Museumsinsel can be cramped with noisy and bustling tourists belligerently fighting their way through the crowds to get a glimpse at the elegant bust of Nefretiti in the Altes Museum or the picturesque French impressionist paintings in the Alte Nationalgalerie, do not ignore the astonishing treasures the Museumsinsel has to offer.

Team Berlin Spring 2009

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