Museuminsel -Five museums on one island.
Museuminsel is built on a small island on Berlin’s Spree River. Here you will find a collection of five unique museums housing collections of artistic, historic and archaeological significance spanning some 6,000 years.
The complex itself was built between 1824 and 1930 and is a UNESCO listed world heritage site. The buildings suffered significant damage towards the end of WWII. However, it is only during the past 20 years that work has commenced to restore and renovate the site.
The five museums exhibit artworks, sculptures, artifacts and treasures from the private collections of the Prussian royal family.
A place of education and enlightenment
King Friedrich Wilhelm established the museums to make art and culture publicly accessible.His vision for Museuminsel was a modern “Roman Forum” or a place of education and enlightenment. Nearly 200 years on, the complex is achieving this goal.
It would be impossible to fully appreciate the treasures of all five museums in just one day. So perhaps select the one or two which most interest you. In fact, you will probably find the collections displayed in any one museum too much to view in just one day.
Each museum has its own unique focus, however we chose the Neues Museum during our visit to Berlin.
The Five Museuminsel Museums
The Prussian Royal family built The Altes Museum (Old Museum) in 1824. It is the oldest building in the complex, where you will find a collection of classical antiquities. The building’s classical Greek facade is itself worth seeing.
WWII bombing largely destroyed the building between 1943 and 1945 and the massive pillars still bear the scars. The Altes Museum is still under extensive restoration as part of the overall complex renovation project.
Friedrich Wilhelm IV commissioned the Neues Museum (New Museum) in 1854 when additional exhibition space was needed for collections in the Altes Museum.
The collection houses Egyptian and prehistoric collections. These include the Egyptian Papyrus collection and the bust of Nefertiti, who was known as “The world’s most beautiful woman”.
Nefertiti’s centre-lit glass case stands court in her own climate and light controlled room.
The Neues Museum was partly destroyed towards the end of WWII and the building was abandoned for several decades. Restoration work commenced in 1997 as part of an overall renovation of the Museuminsel complex.
Since 1876, the Altes Nationalgalerie has exhibited 19th century German and European painting collections. Among the thousands of exhibits you will find works by Manet, Monet, Renoir and Rodin.
The baroque Bode Museum was built in 1934. It houses sculpture collections and the Museum of Byzantine art, spanning from the middle ages to the 19th century.
The Pergamon Museum is the newest, and most popular museum on Museuminsel. Unfortunately it was closed for renovations during our visit, so we were unable to explore. The Pergamon collection houses artifacts found by German archaeologists in Pergamon and Asia Minor. These include the “Market Gate of Miletus” and “Ishtar gate of Babylon.”
Highlights of our Neues Museum visit
Our choice for the morning’s museum visit was the Egyptian collections in the Neues Museum. The collection also houses over 6,000 archaeological finds. It provides an insight into the cultures of Europe and Asia from the stone age to the middle ages. Photography is prohibited in most of the museum to preserve the valuable artifacts.
Bust of Nefertiti.
The Bust of Nefertiti, dating back some 3,000 years is one of the more popular exhibits. She holds court in her own glass encased, climate controlled room. Sculptor Thutmose crafted the bust around 1345 BC.
The sculpture is remarkably well preserved for its age, with intricate detail right down to the wrinkles around the eyes. At just 48 centimetres tall, the small stucco painted, limestone sculpture was significantly smaller than I had expected.
Like the ancient queen herself, controversy surrounds both the authenticity of the statue and her very presence in Berlin. She has however become a major drawcard for the museum, attracting thousands of visitors each year.
The “Papyrus collection” displays texts and literary works examining the culture of writing from early Egyptian times.
Rows of sliding viewing tables ingeniously rotate the displays to enable viewers to ponder upon the ancient hieroglyphics contained on the yellowing papyrus.
We found it an enormous testament to the preservation work which has been undertaken over the years that these ancient scrolls have survived in their current condition.
Photography is strictly prohibited, due to the sensitivity of these exhibits.
The Museum’s extensive Egyptian collection displays a fascinating array of sculptures, tomb architecture and relief art.
The exhibits also feature artifacts from the stone, bronze and iron ages. It is truly amazing that these items which were common in prehistoric daily life have survived. You can view a wide display which includes basic cooking and domestic utensils to hunting utensils, armoury and jewellery.
You will marvel at the skills of these ancient craftsman, especially considering the primitive tools available to them.
Egyptian tombs, Neues Museum, Berlin
The Golden Hat
“The Golden Hat” is one of the Neus Museum’s more popular exhibits. Like Nefertiti, the hat is also displayed in its own darkened room. It is one of four bronze hats which have been found in Germany, Switzerland and France.
Much conjecture surrounds the actual uses of these conical hats. Some believe they were merely altar ornaments. However, other scholars suggest they were actually worn by high priests during ancient ceremonies. Whatever their original purpose, it seems a remarkable that Bronze Age craftsmen sculpted them with primitive tools.
The hat stands some 75cm tall. It is adorned with numerous astronomical symbols, which researchers believe these may have assisted in calculating the movements of the sun and the moon.
We browsed through the Neues Museum for over three hours and could certainly spend another whole morning exploring the treasures we missed the first time.
Visiting the Neues Museum
The Neues Museum is open from 10am to 6pm 7 days per week and is open until 8pm on Thursdays. Last admission is one hour before closing. It is possible to book a multiple museum ticket online to save queuing. You may also find you have discount admissions with your Berlin Pass. Click the link above for up to date information on exhibitions, events and opening times.