Altes Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Five museums on a Berlin island

A visit to Berlin’s Museuminsel provides five unique museums housing art, antiquities and archaelogical artifacts

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Museuminsel -Five museums on one island.

Built on a small island on Berlin’s Spree River, Museuminsel is a collection of five unique museums in Berlin housing collections of artistic, historic and archaeological significance spanning some 6,000 years.

Built between 1824 and 1930, the complex itself is a UNESCO listed world heritage site. The buildings suffered significant damage towards the end of WWII. It is only during the past 20 years that work has commenced to restore and renovate the site.

The five museums largely exhibit artworks, sculptures, artifacts and treasures which originated from the private collections of the Prussian royal family.

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A place of education and enlightenment

Initially the museums were established during the time of King Friedrich Wilhelm,  with a view to making art and culture publicly accessible.

The original concept of Museuminsel was of a modern “Roman Forum”, a place of education and enlightenment. Nearly 200 years on, the original vision for the complex is certainly being realised today.

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 one museum too much to view in just one day.

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Below I’ve given a brief description of the collections in each of the museums, as well as the highlights of our visit to the Neues Museum.

Altes Museum, Berlin
Altes Museum, Berlin

Altes Museum

Built in 1830, the Altes Museum(Old Museum) is the oldest in the complex, holding a collection of classical antiquities. The building’s classical Greek facade is itself worthy of appreciation. The massive pillars still bear the scars of WWII bombing and the building was largely destroyed between 1943 and 1945. The Altes Museum is still under extensive restoration as part of the overall complex renovation project.

Neues Museum

Friedrich Wilhelm IV commissioned  the Neues Museum (New Museum) in 1854 as an additional exhibition space for the growing collections in the Altes Museum.

The collection houses Egyptian and prehistoric collections, including the Egyptian Papyrus collection and the bust of Nefertiti. Known as “The world’s most beautiful woman”, her centre-lit glass case stands court in her own climate and light controlled room.

Partly destroyed towards the end of WWII, the Neues Museum building was abandoned for several decades. Restoration work commenced in 1997 as part of an overall renovation of the Museuminsel complex.

Altes Nationalgalerie, Berlin
Altes Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Altes Nationalgalerie

Commenced in 1876, the Altes Nationalgalerie exhibits 19th century German and European painting collections, including works by Manet, Monet, Renoir and Rodin.

Bode Museum

The baroque Bode Museum, built in 1934, houses sculpture collections and the Museum of Byzantine art, spanning from the middle ages to the 19th century.

Pergamon museum

The newest, and most popular museum on Museuminsel, the Pergamon museum was unfortunately closed for renovations during our visit.  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 the Neues Museum

Our choice for our morning’s museum visit was the Egyptian collections in the Neues Museum. The collection also houses over 6,000 archaeological finds, providing an insight into the cultures of Europe and Asia from the stone age to the middle ages.

Bust of Nefertiti.

The Bust of Nefertiti, dating back some 3,000 years is one of the more popular exhibitions, holding court in her own glass encased, climate controlled room.

It is believed to have been crafted by sculptor Thutmose 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 has surrounded both the authenticity of the statue and her very presence in Berlin. She has however become a major drawcard for the museum, holding court to thousands of visitors a year and we were certainly enthralled by her.

Papyrus collection

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.

Unfortunately, given the sensitivity of these exhibits, photography is strictly prohibited.

Cultural artifacts

The Museum’s extensive Egyptian collection displays sculptures, tomb architecture and relief art.

The exhibits also feature artifacts from the stone, bronze and iron ages. From 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

Egyptian tombs, Neues Museum, Berlin

Egyptian collection, Neues Muesum, Berlin
Egyptian collection, Neues Muesum, Berlin

The Golden Hat

“The Golden Hat” is one of the more popular exhibits. Also displayed in it’s own darkened room the hat 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 believing they were merely altar ornaments, other scholars suggesting they were actually worn by high priests during ancient ceremonies.

golden hat2
Bronze age hat
Golden Hat, Neues Museum Berlin
Golden Hat, Neues Museum Berlin

Standing some 75cm tall, the hat is adorned with numerous astronomical symbols, which researchers believe may have assisted in calculating the movements of the sun and the moon.

We spent over three hours browsing through the Neues Museum 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 and you may also find you have discount admissions with your Berlin Pass.

Up to date information on exhibitions, events and opening times can be found by clicking the link above.

Read also : First time in Berlin
Beyond the Berlin Wall

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