The Spree river runs right through the center of Berlin, and some of the city’s most beautiful sites lie along its banks. Part of a large island in the Spree in the Mitte neighborhood is the home Berlin’s most impressive museums. Now known as Museum Island, this cluster of 5 museums has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is the place to go if you want to see the best of Berlin’s historical collections.
Probably the two most impressive pieces on the entire island are the Ishtar Gate (in the Middle East wing) and the Pergamon Altar (in the Antiquities wing), both housed in the Pergamon museum. The processional way and the Islamic and Greek art collections in the Pergamon are also worth a visit and there’s an excellent audio guide, but you could easily spend a day or more here and not see everything!
Smaller and less imposing than the Pergamon is the Altes Museum, which also houses some Greek and Roman art as well as Egyptian. There are some interesting artifacts showing Egyptian daily life and burial rituals. However, it can feel like an extension of the Pergamon and Neues, so peek into the best of the Egyptian exhibits then breeze through if you’re short on time.
The Bode was recently renovated, and can easily hold its own now against the Pergamon as a star of Museum Island. More exciting Egyptian artifacts are displayed here, including a huge sphinx. Other main attractions are the largest sculpture collection in the country, the Papyrus exhibit, and the collection of paintings from the European masters. It’s also the most impressive museum architecturally, with its dome on the river serving as one of Berlin’s iconic images.
The Neues Museum was completely renovated from head to toe, and now houses more of the collections that begin in the Altes (it was built as a sort of extension), including the bust of Nefertiti, one of Museum Island’s most famous pieces. Most impressive here, though, is the architecture and interior design, which is a reason in itself to come to the Neues. There are some fascinating exhibitions dedicated to the development of building and industry, too, but even a walk through the museum just to see the museum itself is worth it.
Most traditional of the island’s museums is the Alte Nationalgalerie, which is home to Classical, Romantic, and Impressionist works of art from Europe’s finest. Several of Germany’s most important paintings are housed here, and you won’t find a larger collection of 18th and 19th century art elsewhere in the country. Check out Schadow’s sculptures of the Prussian princesses before you leave.
[photo courtesy of Malkav]