The Museumsinsel Berlin is a museum ensemble of unsurpassed diversity and stature, which houses the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s unique collections of art and cultural artefacts from Europe and the wider Mediterranean region. The island is located in the middle of the city, on the site of Berlin’s founding, eight centuries ago.
This museum is the birthplace of all public museums in Berlin. As the first exhibition building on the Museumsinsel Berlin, it was constructed directly opposite the original palace and next to the cathedral. Built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel from 1823 to 1830, it is one of the most stunning early museum buildings in Europe, boasting a broad atrium and inviting staircase overlooking Lustgarten, as well as an elegant rotunda, modelled on the Pantheon in Rome. Originally conceived with the crucial backing of Wilhelm von Humboldt as a place that would make the royal Prussian collections accessible to everyone, the museum is used by the Antikensammlung (Collection of Classical Antiquities) to present its many treasures here, among them: painted vases, the sculpture known as the 'Praying Boy', and colourfully painted fragments of Etruscan architecture, which are presented in wonderful harmony with the Neoclassical building.
The planned renovation work by architects Heinz Hilmer, Christoph Sattler, and Thomas Albrecht will not only restore the building to its former glory, but allow the collection inside to be viewed in a fresh light.
The second great building on the Museumsinsel Berlin was constructed by Friedrich August Stüler (Schinkel’s pupil) between 1843 and 1855. It was a crucial turning point in the development of the entire island in the Spree as a 'sanctuary of art and science'. After its partial destruction in World War II, it spent the following decades as a ruin in the heart of the city, until extensive and elaborate renovation and restoration work was undertaken on the structure by David Chipperfield Architects, allowing it to finally reopen in 2009. Today, the rich architectural forms and decorative features from the original structure, executed in the late Neoclassical and Historicist styles, have been brought into a charged, palpable dialogue with the strict, modern vernacular of the building’s newly designed sections. With enormous sensitivity and consummate skill, Chipperfield has succeeded to simultaneously preserve both Stüler’s heritage-listed building and the scars of modern history, while at the same time creating a truly modern museum.
In the Neues Museum one of the world’s most beautiful sculptures awaits the viewer: Nefertiti, the most visited bust in the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, whose precious artefacts are on display in the museum. The Staatliche Museen’s collection of prehistoric and ancient artefacts, the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte has also taken up permanent residency in the museum with a display that includes Heinrich Schliemann’s famous collection of finds from Troy and the mysterious Bronze-Age 'Berlin Gold Hat'. They are combined in a comprehensive display with artworks from the Antikensammlung.
As the original home to the Nationalgalerie’s collection, which has spread over time to various other locations, the majestic Alte Nationalgalerie dominates the island’s skyline. From its elevated vantage point, this 19th-century temple to art is a sanctum of paintings and sculptures that reflect the major developments in art from the Romanticism and Neo-classicism of the ‘Age of Goethe’ up to French and German Realist painting. The building’s 19th-century facade and works contained within thus strike a perfect balance and create an authentic whole.
The design for the Alte Nationalgalerie stemmed from an architectural sketch made by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia. It was built by Friedrich August Stüler, who was responsible for designing the Neues Museum before it. Johann Heinrich Strack, who, like Stüler was a pupil of Schinkel, took over the supervision of the construction from 1867 to 1876, the year of its completion and opening. Most recently, the museum’s renovation was overseen by the HG Merz Berlin.
Like a moated palace, the neo-Baroque Bode-Museum rises up from the water at the northernmost tip of the Museumsinsel Berlin. Once visitors have passed the building’s central enfilade – formed by the majestic Great Domed Hall, the basilica, and the Small Domed Hall – they are brought face-to-face with works from the Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst. The collection’s European sculptures dating from the Middle Ages to the 18th century are consistently juxtaposed with works from the same epoch taken from the Gemäldegalerie’s collection, in a curatorial display scheme inspired by the museum’s spiritus rector, Wilhelm von Bode. It was his desire to combine paintings, sculptures, and craftwork from a particular period in a single, unified display. Ernst Eberhard von Ihne specifically designed the museum to fit this purpose; it was constructed between 1897 and 1904 and was originally named the Kaiser Friedrich-Museum. Today, the Bode-Museum is also home to the Staatliche Museen’s numismatic collection, the Münzkabinett.
After extensive renovation work by Heinz Tesar, the Bode-Museum was able to reopen its doors to the public in 2006.
The Pergamonmuseum was created as the last of the five large exhibition buildings on the Museumsinsel Berlin. Designed by Alfred Messel, its construction lasted twenty years from 1910 to 1930 and was supervised by Ludwig Hoffmann after Messel’s death. Year on year it attracts around one million visitors from all over the world. The most breath-taking of all artworks they come to admire is the eponymous Pergamon Altar, which the Antikensammlung presents here together with other magnificent archaeological reconstructions and its array of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. The Pergamonmuseum houses two other collections: the Vorderasiatisches Museum (Museum of the Ancient Near East), with its bright-blue Ishtar Gate, and the Museum für Islamische Kunst (Museum of Islamic Art), with its elaborately decorated stone facade from Mshatta. Besides these masterpieces of reconstructed architecture which incorporate original large-scale finds into the monumental design, the three collections also present scores of smaller treasures from their holdings.
The Pergamonmuseum is currently undergoing extensive renovation planned by the architectural practice of Oswald Mathias Ungers. Alfred Messel’s original idea of adding a fourth wing to complete the building on the side facing Kupfergraben is finally about to be realized. During the current stage of renovations, the hall containing the Pergamon Altar is closed since September 2014 and is due to remain closed to the public until 2019. The north wing and the gallery of Hellenistic art are also affected by the closure. The South Wing of the Pergamonmuseum, featuring the Market Gate of Miletus, the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon, and the Museum of Islamic Art, remains unaffected and will be open to the public during this time.
Even during the inception of plans to forge a ‘sanctuary for art and learning’ on the Museumsinsel, the architects also aimed to create an outdoor space for people to stroll around in and while away the time. Today the Kolonnadenhof (Colonnade Courtyard) is an inviting public garden for museum and collection visitors to use. The newly sculpted Kolonnadenhof was officially handed over for public use on 6 June 2010 (UNESCO World Heritage Day). For a decade now, the Museumsinsel Berlin has enjoyed the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site. The sculptural works on display in the Kolonnadenhof stand as examples of the Nationalgalerie’s sculpture collection and present a glimpse of the rich holdings held inside.
The James-Simon-Galerie will be the future visitor centre for the Museum Island. The building will serve all visitors (individuals, tourist groups, and school groups) and will contain ticket desks selling tickets for all museums, information desks, a café, and the central museum gift shop. This central location will provide direct access to the Pergamonmuseum and Neues Museum, and to the Archäologische Promenade, which will form a walkway connecting four museums, from the Altes Museum in the south to the Bode Museum in the north. Featuring an auditorium and a temporary exhibition hall, the entrance building will serve as a place for communication and contemplation on the World Heritage Site Museumsinsel Berlin.