Get to learning at the Museum Island

Nestled in the heart of Berlin, on the banks of the River Spree and the Spree Canal, is the famous Museum Island, an extraordinary ensemble of five museums. This unique complex became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, adding to its appeal and importance. Every year, countless visitors from all over the world come to the Museum Island to marvel at this five-museum complex, which houses a wide variety of collections ranging from Antiquity to nineteenth-century art. As well as the remarkable exhibitions themselves, the ensemble of historic buildings that adorn the Museum Island bears witness to Berlin's architectural splendour and captivates all who contemplate it. Considered one of the first museum enclaves in Europe, Berlin's Museum Island was designed by five visionary architects who meticulously crafted this impressive urban architectural marvel. Completed in 1930, the museum complex captivates with its captivating structures and objects, attracting more than three million visitors a year. Be one of the many visitors of the Museum island this year and come get your culture fix!

The Museum Island

- © S.Borisov / Shutterstock

The island’s history

The Altes Museum, also known as the Old Museum, is located in the Lustgarten, directly opposite Berlin Cathedral and the newly created Forum Humboldt. When it first opened its doors in 1830, the Altes Museum presented historically important collections and works of art to the Berlin public, marking the first step in the city's widespread accessibility. This concept of an inclusive museum derived from the educational ideals of the Enlightenment, and its design was commissioned to the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, an eminent figure in Prussian history. Over the next century, five separate museums were built on this site, culminating in the late 1870s when Berlin's Museum Island was given its current name.

In 1855, Friedrich August Stüler created a second impressive museum building, the Neues Museum (New Museum). The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), a structure reminiscent of ancient Greek temples and incorporating elements of Stüler's vision, unveiled its grandeur in 1876. However, the complex was not completed until the early 20th century. In 1904, the neo-baroque Kaiser Friedrich Museum, now known as the Bode Museum, adorned the tip of the Museum Island. The latest addition, the Pergamon Museum, joined the collection of five large museum buildings in 1930.

The Museum Island

- © Chitarra / Shutterstock

During the turbulent period of the Nazi regime, ambitious plans for transformation were proposed, but fortunately never realised. After the war, Museum Island found itself in a state of disarray , with the Neues Museum bearing the brunt of the destruction. Reconstruction efforts began during the period of East Germany, but the complete restoration of the Neues Museum remained an unfinished project. Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1999, the Board of Trustees approved a comprehensive restoration initiative under the title "Museum Island Master Plan". This initiative included the meticulous reconstruction of the Neues Museum and the meticulous restoration of the museum's other structures. In addition, the various museum buildings, each facing in a different direction, were brought together to form a coherent and extensive complex.

Recently, a contemporary central entrance and exhibition space opened in 2019, the James Simon Gallery. Architect David Chipperfield, renowned in British architectural circles, undertook the design of the James Simon Gallery. His firm, David Chipperfield Architects, had already overseen the reconstruction of the Neues Museum. James Simon, a major art collector and Jewish citizen of Berlin who played a key role in supporting the Island's museums, is now receiving well-deserved recognition. His vast collections have greatly enriched Berlin's museums, and his most emblematic contribution can be found under the north dome of the Neues Museum: the famous bust of Nefertiti! Additionally, to further enhance the experience, the Archaeological Walk will link four of the five museums with underground tunnels and feature significant objects from the art collections.

The Museum Island

- © Chitarra / Shutterstock

The Five Renowned Museums

The Pergamon Museum

The Pergamon Museum is a three-winged museum and is also Berlin's most visited museum. Within its walls, the collection of classical antiquities, the museum of the Ancient Near East and the museum of Islamic art come to life. The classical antiquities collection is one of the world's most important collections of Greek and Roman art treasures. Among its illustrious collections, the Roman altar of Pergamon recounts the epic battle between the gods and the giants and is a prominent piece of the collection.

As part of the Museum Island master plan, the current renovations are enhancing the grandeur of the Pergamon Museum, including the planned addition of a fourth wing. Throughout this transformation process, the room housing the famous Pergamon altar is sadly expected to remain inaccessible until 2027. However, the impressive Roman architectural marvel that is the imposing Miletus Market Gate remains open to admiration. Visitors can also discover the main attractions of the Museum of the Ancient Near East, including the enchanting Ishtar Gate of Babylon. 

A city wall inside the Pergamo Museum

- © pio3 / Shutterstock

The Bode Museum

Within its grand chambers, a remarkable assortment of sculptures is showcased, spanning the expanse from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. The Bode Museum is home to magnificent creations by luminaries such as Donatello, Bernini, and Canova. The Museum of Byzantine Art and the Numismatic Collection also harbour a wealth of precious artefacts. 

As of July 2019, visitors have once again been granted access to the James Simon Cabinet, now reinstated in its original room. This restoration of access follows its closure during the dark period of anti-Semitism under the Nazi regime. During the summer months, the opposite riverbank transforms into a cherished rendezvous point for both Berliners and visitors, enticed by the splendid vista overlooking the northern terminus of Museum Island.

Inside the Bode Museum

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The Neues Museum

By cleverly navigating between the ageing building and the remnants of the conflict, and cutting-edge design innovations, a captivating and distinctive architectural aesthetic has emerged that seamlessly preserves its authentic essence. Following its remarkable revitalisation in 2009, the Neues Museum has become a haven of peace, featuring exhibits from the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, the Museum of Prehistory and Ancient History, and the Collection of Classical Antiquities. In a unique octagonal chamber beneath the north dome, the famous bust of Nefertiti, a world treasure, takes centre stage, bringing the museum to life.

The Neues Museum

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The Alte Nationalgalerie

Looking like an ancient sanctuary, the Alte Nationalgalerie (former National Gallery) rises majestically above Museum Island, perched on its elevated, terraced pedestal. The influence of Greek temple architecture is undeniable in the project designed by Friedrich August Stüler. The Alte Nationalgalerie houses a treasure trove of paintings and sculptures spanning Classicism, Romanticism, the Biedermeier period, Impressionism and the early modern era. Considered one of the most extensive compilations of art covering the period from the French Revolution to the First World War, it houses such renowned masterpieces as Caspar David Friedrich's evocative 'The Monk by the Sea' and Auguste Rodin's contemplative 'The Thinker'. The gallery also features works by such luminaries as Schinkel, Menzel, Manet, Monet and Renoir, all of whom have left an indelible mark on its galleries. A captivating welcome awaits visitors as they enter, in the form of Johann Gottfried Schadow's emblematic "Group of Princesses", the epitome of Prussian grace and elegance.

The Alte Nationalgalerie

- © Mistervlad / Shutterstock

The Altes Museum

The island's first museum, the Altes Museum, the embodiment of classical architecture designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1830, was a milestone. It introduced an innovative concept by showing the public the royal art collections in a meticulously designed building in the antique style. Today, this iconic building houses a myriad of timeless treasures from classical antiquity, harmoniously arranged alongside its magnificent circular dome. Among the captivating exhibits are an array of sculptural masterpieces, intricate jewellery, ornate vases and ancient coins from the fields of Greek, Etruscan and Roman art. In particular, an assortment of gold and silver jewellery is elegantly displayed under a ceramic canopy in a dedicated treasure chamber, adding a touch of luxury to the immersive experience.

The Altes Museum

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Practical information about your visit

Capri by Fraser Berlin Berlin

Capri by Fraser Berlin

Nestled at the heart of the Museum island, Capri by Fraser Berlin offers studios with hotel services, a 24-hour reception and a bar.
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How to get to the Museum island?

By car: 

  • If you prefer driving, you can rent a car or use a taxi service to get to the Museum island. But, keep in mind that traffic and parking might be challenging. 

By bus: 

  • Berlin has an extensive public transportation network, including buses! You can take a bus to go from your accommodation to the museum island. The nearest stop from the island is the Lustgarten bus stop only 600m away from Pergamonmuseum. 

By subway: 

  • The subway (U-Bahn) in Berlin can take you to the Museum island. Stop at the U Museumsinsel subway stop. 

Some things to keep in mind for your visit

  • With this museum pass you can visit 30 other museums in Berlin for free.
  • For people under the age of 18,most museum entries are free of charge.

Useful Link

Berlin's official travel website:

https://www.visitberlin.de/en/museum-island-in-berlin/?utm_source=easyvoyage          

by Faustine PEREZ
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