The James-Simon-Galerie is Now Open

12.07.2019
James-Simon-Galerie

Accompanied by ceremonial festivities and with Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel in attendance, on 12 July 2019, the James-Simon-Galerie was officially opened, and now serves as the Museumsinsel’s central entrance building. The reception that followed offered invited guests the chance to explore the building, which was designed by David Chipperfield Architects and named after Berlin’s great patron of the arts, James Simon. The festivities also saw the passageways leading to the Neues Museum and the Pergamonmuseum opened for the first time. 

Built on the last patch of empty space on the Museumsinsel

Prof Hermann Parzinger, President of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, opened the festivities with a speech. He stressed that for the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, this was a truly historic day: “we won’t be opening any more new buildings here”, said Parzinger, in reference to what was the last patch of empty space on the Museumsinsel Berlin, which is now the home of the James-Simon-Galerie, and which, along with the connections between the various buildings of the island, also opens up new perspectives and lines of connection in the urban landscape of Berlin. David Chipperfield, the architect of the James-Simon-Galerie, also reminisced on what was once an unused plot of land, which just two decades ago lay empty and desolate behind the then dilapidated Neues Museum. He made it clear that for his firm, the Museumsinsel was never just one project among others, but the project, and pointed out that Alexander Schwarz had been involved in every detail of the development of the James-Simon-Galerie.   

The Simon family back in Berlin

Together with around two dozen other descendants of James Simon – whose family was forced to emigrate by the Nazi regime – Ann and Timothy M. Simon made the trip from the USA to participate in the festivities. They expressed their hope that the James-Simon-Galerie might come to serve as inspiration for more privileged individuals to support those not so fortunate. They presented Prof Michael Eissenhauer, Director-General of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, with an extensive folder of works from James Simon’s estate. Eissenhauer accepted this gift from the Simon family on behalf of the SMB to officially mark the opening of the James-Simon-Galerie. Furthermore, he stressed that the building is to serve to honour all the other patrons of Berlin’s museums.

A building connecting past and future

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined the significance of the Museumsinsel Berlin as a multi-faceted museum network exhibiting a broad panorama of the history of humanity, and recalled Wilhelm von Humboldt’s much-cited saying: “only those who know the past have a future”. She stressed the crucial social role of disseminating knowledge, education and communication, and emphasized the importance of an openness to controversial interpretations and debate within a democratic community. With this, she made a plea for a sustained and critical confrontation with history, cultures and traditions as a path to increased tolerance and mutual understanding, and as an antidote to defensiveness, insularity and exclusion. “These become a breeding ground for misunderstanding, prejudice and hostility”, said Merkel, while museums offer valuable opportunities “to gain new insights from new perspectives”, and to recognise “that the things that connect us are greater than those that divides us”. In light of this, the Chancellor Merkel wished the James-Simon-Galerie and the Museumsinsel a wealth of visitors in the years to come.