The Neue Nationalgalerie is dedicated to the twentieth-century art from the Nationalgalerie’s diverse collection, which is on show at five further locations: Alte Nationalgalerie, Friedrichswerdersche Kirche, Museum Berggruen, Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg and Hamburger Bahnhof – Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart.
After nearly fifty years of use, the Neue Nationalgalerie was extensively refurbished and modernised from 2015 until 2020.
The Neue Nationalgalerie (1965-1968) is the last major project completed by the internationally famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. His long-term preoccupation with creating fluid, open spaces culminated in the design of the glazed upper pavilion of the gallery. The architect died shortly after the building’s inauguration. With its steel roof and gracefully austere architectural language, the Neue Nationalgalerie not only stands as an icon of modernism, but as testament to a visionary architect of the twentieth century.
When it was built, the museum stood on the edge of what was then West Berlin. It was constructed as one of the vital cornerstones of the Kulturforum, which planned by another great architect of the post-war period, Hans Scharoun. Thanks to the reunification of Germany and of Berlin, and the ensuing construction activity at Potsdamer Platz, the Neue Nationalgalerie no longer stands in an abandoned wasteland but in the busy heart of the city.
The history of the Neue Nationalgalerie is inextricably linked to the political division of Germany and the city of Berlin that was a consequence of the Second World War. The Nationalgalerie’s (National Gallery’s) collection, originally on display on the Museumsinsel Berlin (Museum Island Berlin) and later, in the 1920s, also in the Kronprinzen Palais on the boulevard Unter den Linden, was initially managed by the Municipality of Greater Berlin in the immediate post-war years. The founding in 1949 of two German states, with opposed political systems and differing ideologies concerning art and its role in society, marked the end of a unified collection. While the East Berlin Nationalgalerie could stay in its original building (following repairs), in West Berlin there was initially no dedicated space for the collection. Beginning in the late 1940s, the West Berlin authorities took strides to rebuild the collection by setting up a “Gallery of the 20th Century.” Further to this, part of the National Gallery’s original collection of nineteenth-century artwork, found in West Germany after the war, was absorbed the newly established Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation). As these two art collections were to be united, in 1962 Mies van der Rohe was commissioned to design a new museum building to house them both. In September 1965, the architect came to Berlin for the laying of the foundation stone. Two years later he also personally attended the most spectacular construction stage: the hydraulic raising into place of the gigantic steel roof. The building was opened on 15 September 1968 and bore the name Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery). Its name signalled the idea of departing from the old and beginning a new chapter – the cultural rebirth of West Berlin.
The building’s architectural structure has remained virtually unchanged ever since. The urban setting in which it stands, however, has undergone radical changes: the Staatsbibliothek (Berlin State Library) emerged at almost the same time as the Neue Nationalgalerie, on the opposite side of Potsdamer Strasse, and was followed by the Kammermusiksaal (chamber music hall) erected next to the Philharmonie, which by this point was already standing. These buildings were joined over time by a cluster of museums in the form of the Kulturforum, and, after German reunification, by the urban redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz.