Five world-class museums, clumped together on a small island in the Spree River and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That’s Museum Island in Berlin and where we decided to spend our last afternoon in Berlin. Whilst the first of the museums opened in 1830, it took 100 years until all five were completed (1930). The island was heavily damaged during the second world war and one of the museums was left in ruins. The island and its museums are currently undergoing a major renovation.
The five museums on the island are the Pergamon Museum, Bode-Museum, Neues Museum (New Museum), Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) and Altes Museum (Old Museum). We only wanted to spend about three hours, so we knew that we wouldn’t be able to visit all five museums. We decided to visit three of them and be selective about which sections we visited due to the time constraints. We bought ‘Museum Island’ tickets for €18 each, that permit entry into all five museums on one day. As entry to individual museums costs at least €10 each, it was a good deal.
Our first stop was the Alte Nationalgalerie. The gallery contains an international collection of art from 1800 to the present, ranging from early Neo-Classical and Romantic to Impressionist and it was the latter that I particularly wanted to see.
The Gallery is spread over three floors: Level 1 features classicist sculpture and facets of realism; level 2 features Idealism, Realism and Impressionism; whilst level 3 covers Neo-Classicism and Romanticism. We did visit and walk through all levels of the gallery, but we were selective about which pieces we stopped to take a close look at. Many of the pieces were dark portraits that held no appeal to me, so it was easy to speed through whole rooms as we walked. The gallery features several pieces by Max Liebermann and I found his ‘Flax Barn at Laren’ to be particularly interesting.
The Impressionist paintings are all in a central room on level 2, and that is where I paused and studied each painting. The museum doesn’t have a large number of Impressionist works, but there are some nice pieces by artists such as Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Cezanne.
Our second visit was to the Neues Museum which displays artifacts that cover the evolution of ancient cultures from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages. Its exhibits include Egyptian, Roman and Greek cultures and are spread over four levels.
Again, we walked through most of the museum, stopping to look at items that caught our eyes. One of the more interesting items was the ‘Golden Hat’ that contains remarkable data on astrology that was known to people in the second millennium BC.
The upper level includes displays of the progression of tools, weapons and implements through the stone, iron and bronze ages. Most of the exhibits are encased in glass boxes and the light reflections on the glass prevent decent photography. One of the museum’s featured exhibits is the Bust of Nefertiti which is in a glass case, in the centre of its own room, in which no photographs are permitted (with four staff members there to ensure that rules are followed). Quite bizarre!
Our third and final visit was to the Pergamon, arguably Berlin’s most popular museum. I have visited before but it was Bev’s first time here. Unfortunately, due to the renovations and the addition of a new (fourth) wing to the museum, the impressive Pergamon Altar (a Greek temple) is closed until 2019. Despite the temporary absence of the Pergamon Altar, the other two main features of the museum (Ishtar Gate and the Roman Market Gate of Miletus) make it a worthwhile visit.
The beautiful Ishtar Gate is impressive enough in the museum setting. But when considering it as part of the larger structure that existed in Babylon, including the Processional Street of Babylon, it is awe-inspiring. The Processional Street alone is known to have been at least 250 meters long and 20-24 meters wide, with at least 180 meters of its length being decorated with coloured reliefs of lions, the sacred animal of the goddess Ishtar. I tried to imagine the sheer grandeur of the place when it was built, during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (604 – 562 BC). Amazing!
The Roman Gate of Miletus also provides an opportunity to imagine life in another time. The large gate would have provided access to a market square in the Roman town of Miletus. The museum has a scale model of the town, as it would have appeared around 200 BC, showing that this gate was only a small part of a much larger settlement.
These large feature exhibits are what makes the Pergamon Museum stand out. A good way to end our afternoon of museum visits.