Museumsinsel Berlin – 20 Years as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Museumsinsel Berlin

For 20 years now, the Museumsinsel Berlin has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On 4 December 1999, the certificate recognising the Museumsinsel as a World Heritage Site was signed, and on 10 March 2000, then Director-General of UNESCO, Kōichirō Matsuura, presented the document at an official ceremony. Today, the ensemble of buildings that make up the Museumsinsel – the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode-Museum, the Pergamonmuseum and the James-Simon-Galerie – is one of the biggest cultural attractions in Germany, drawing some 2.5 million visitors a year.

The Museumsinsel Master Plan

In June of 1999, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz signed off on a master plan for reconstructing and developing the Museumsinsel, something that had already been tabled during the UNESCO application process. Since then, three of the five historical buildings have undergone comprehensive restoration and refurbishment work before being reopened to the public: the Alte Nationalgalerie in 2001, the Bode-Museum in 2006 and the Neues Museum in 2009. Currently, the Pergamonmuseum is undergoing restoration and refurbishment work. While the north wing and the central building housing the Pergamon Altar are closed for renovations, the south wing and the southern section of the central building, which are home to the Ishtar Gate, the Processional Way and the Market Gate of Miletus, remain open to visitors. Most recently, in July of 2019, the James-Simon-Galerie was opened, which serves as the central entrance building of the Museumsinsel Berlin.

“The fact that the 20th anniversary of the Museumsinsel Berlin being recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site coincides this year with the opening of the James-Simon-Galerie is such a happy coincidence, and underscores the visionary and forward-looking conception of the Museumsinsel Master Plan”, remarked Michael Eissenhauer, Director-General of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. “The Museumsinsel is an internationally unique ensemble of buildings in the heart of the German capital, and is now home to six buildings and eight collections, which are complemented by the neighbouring Pergamon-Panorama, the Archäologisches Zentrum, and Haus Bastian – Zentrum für Kulturelle Bildung. With this, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin has moved a major step closer to the completion of the Master Plan and the preservation of the Museumsinsel Berlin for coming generations.”

The Museumsinsel as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Museumsinsel Berlin was the 22nd World Heritage Site in Germany to be recognised by UNESCO. The announcement by the UNESCO selection committee described the site an outstanding example of the concept of an art museum, which stretches back to the age of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and “a unique ensemble of museum buildings that illustrates the evolution of modern museum design over a period of more than a century”. It also emphasised the organic harmony between the buildings and the collections they exhibit.

The first building to be opened on the Museumsinsel Berlin was the Königliches Museum, designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and completed in 1830 – an outstanding example of Neoclassical architecture in Germany. A series of buildings followed, all designed by some of the most important architects of their eras, and always reflecting the style and materials of the time, with the Neues Museum (1859), the Alte Nationalgalerie (1871), the Bode-Museum, (founded in 1904 as the Kaiser Friedrich-Museum), the Pergamonmuseum (1930) and the James-Simon-Galerie (2019).