Berlin Must-Sees: Museum Island (Museumsinsel)

12 08 2007

The Museum Island (Museuminsel), a UNESCO National Heritage site (since 1999) is really a very special place, and one of the true pearls of Berlin’s Mitte quarter. It all started in 1830, when King Friedrich Wilhelm the 3 wanted to let the general public view the royal art treasures of Germany. That’s when the Old Museum (Alte Museum) was built.


The Old Museum.

A few years later, in 1859, the New Museum (Neue Museum) was built, since the old one got a bit too crummy. In 1876, a hundred years before I was born, they built the Old National Gallery. The Bode Museum (which was then called the Kaiser Friedrich Museum) was added in 1904, and the Pergamon Museum in 1930.

In WW2, most of the place (some 70%) was destroyed, and after the war the collections were divided between east and west. After the unification, they started a huge restoration project, which is supposed to be completed in 2015. But even with the work going on, there’s so much to see there.

Walking to Museuminsel.

The guides usually say that if you’re short in time, and planning to see one major museum, go to the Pergamon. I’m more of a modern art person, but you do what you have to do as a tourist. This museum was built to complement the Bode Museum, which had grown too small to house all the things the Germans picked up while traveling the world. What comes in mind now is a sentence from one of the “Indiana Jones” films, “it belongs in the museum”. It is quite the work of grave diggers. But then again, not exactly a unique German feature.

So we saw the Greek and Roman antiquities, especially the huge Pergamon Altar (an altar to Zeus), the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, a wonderful room covered with rugs from the 16th century or so, and other interesting stuff. It’s too big, and we were pretty wet and tired when we got there, so we passed the Islamic art museum, although I’m pretty sure it’s wonderful too (and I actually really like calligraphy).

The Pergamon Altar. Model of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon.

To the Old Museum we got at the end of the long and eventful night of museums. It was close to 2a.m, we missed (again) the late night pipe organ concert at the Dom, but we needed some closure. So we went to see Queen Nefertiti. I think Shooky has a crush on her until today. She’s supposed to return to the New Museum, which is still closed for renovation, in 2009. Btw, the Old Museum was built by Schinkel. As were many other buildings around Berlin.

Queen Nefertiti.

The Bode Museum was re-opened in October 2006, so we didn’t get the chance to see it. It exhibits a collection of Byzantine art, a coin cabinet and works from the picture gallery. And the Old National Gallery, which exhibits a collection of painting and sculptures of 19th century artists (and was re-opened in 2001), well, we just missed.

The Old Museum is located in the south of the Museum Island, near the Schlossbrücke and the Berliner Dom. The New Museum and the Old National Gallery are located to the north of the Old Museum. The Pergamon is located on the Kupfergraben side of the river Spree. The Bode Museum is located on the north side of the island. Check out the master plan for the island (and more) on this site.

You can get there using S lines S1, S2, S5, S7, S75 and S9 to Friedrich st, or U line U6, or bus line 147 (which is a very useful bus line, btw. It once saved us from dropping dead after visiting a modern art museum, but that’s for another time) (I’m getting a bit too “A Møøse once bit my sister” here).



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