Berlin’s Museum Island

CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER LIDOWSKI

Berlin’s Museum Island |www.germanyja.comSometimes, I experience a moment that reminds me of just how lucky I am.  Most of us have moments like that throughout our lifetimes, but it’s nice to take a step back and acknowledge when one of those moments is happening.  I am lucky, at this moment in my life, to see things that many only get to glance at when turning the pages in art or history books.  During my family’s trip to Berlin, I found myself realizing that I was experiencing several of those “lucky” moments.  More than one occurred while visiting Museumsinsel Berlin.

Museumsinsel Berlin, or the Museum Island Berlin, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The complex consists of five museums with architecture so notable that it is worth visiting Museumsinsel Berlin just to see the buildings.  Stepping out of the subway station, I found myself immediately surrounded by high, domed buildings with ornately carved walls.  The entire day could have been spent sitting on a park bench studying every arch and bend of each building.  However, I suggest taking the time to go inside at least a few of the museums to see all the beautiful works of art and artifacts that they house.  

Each of the museums specializes in a specific topic.  The first of the five museums, Schinkel’s Altes Museum, was built in 1830 after King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia declared that the public should be able to tour and appreciate great works of art.  Thus, the building of Museumsinsel Berlin began, and eventually Museum Island grew to include the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode-Museum, and the Pergamonmuseum.  During our visit, we went to see the Pergamonmuseum and the Neues Museum.

Berlin’s Museum Island |www.germanyja.com The Pergamonmuseum

Berlin’s Museum Island |www.germanyja.comThe Pergamonmuseum was the last of the five museums on Museumsinsel to be built.  The museum boasts three main collections that feature classical antiquities, information and artifacts from the ancient near east, and Islamic art.  Upon entering the museum, visitors are greeted by the bright blue tiles of Ishtar Gate.  German excavators found fragments of the gate’s glazed bricks and were able to confirm that the bricks belonged to the Ishtar Gate of Nebuchadnezzar II (604-462 BC).  

Over 500 crates of bricks were brought back to Berlin in the early 20th century.  The pieces were carefully put back together like a puzzle with missing sections filled in with modern tiles.  Now, visitors can see the brilliant blue of the gate and the matching Processional Way.  The experience of seeing the gate is enhanced by the reconstructed Processional Way that would have passed through its arch.  The same lapis-blue tiles seen on the gate are used on the Processional Way, and images of lions, bulls, dragons, and flowers in golden hues stand out against the sea of blue.  Visitors get to see the same structures erected in celebration of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar that her follows did.  I consider myself pretty lucky to have gotten to see something like that.

Another prized artifact found at the Pergamonmuseum is the Roman Market Gate of Miletus, which dates to around 100 AD.   The gate was found during excavations of Miletus in 1903-1905.  The pile of rubble was painstakingly reconstructed, and missing sections were filled in using modern building techniques so that one has to look carefully to see where original sections end and replaced ones begin.  It is easy to imagine busy merchants and shoppers passing through the gate, and it’s easy to take a moment to remind oneself of how amazing it is to see something so beautiful.  

While the gates and Processional Way are certainly the main attractions of the museum, the other galleries offer a plethora of artifacts to explore and marvel at.  I suggest taking advantage of the audio tour offered at the ticket counter.  While most of the items on display are carefully labeled, the audio tour provides additional information that can help one realize the historical and cultural significance of the items on display.

Berlin’s Museum Island |www.germanyja.comThe Neues Museum

After touring the Pergamonmuseum, I headed over to the Neues Museum.  The Neues Museum, built between 1843 and 1855, is home to the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection and the Museum of Prehistory and Early History.  

The thing I wanted to see the most in the Neues Museum was the bust of Queen Nefertiti.  The bust dates to about 1340 BCE, which is part of the Amarna Period.  During this time, Nefertiti formed a divine triad with her husband Akhenaten and Aten, a deity the king identified as the universal god.  Unfortunately, visitors cannot photograph the bust, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it is simply beautiful.  Queen Nefertiti’s bust is one of those things that most people only get to glance at in a book or on a postcard, so seeing the bust provided yet another moment to realize just how lucky I am to be able to travel to Berlin and see such amazing things.

In addition to visiting Queen Nefertiti and the stunning examples of Egyptian statuary and building facades, visitors should take time to see the Golden Hat.  The Golden Hat, also known as the Berlin Gold Hat, is considered a masterful example of Bronze Age goldsmithing.  Its origins are uncertain, but the fact that the three other golden hats known to exist can be traced to southern Germany and France indicate that it is probably from that region as well.  The hat is engraved with a dating system that explains the nineteen year cycle of the sun and moon.  One doesn’t need to fully understand the hat’s original purpose or meaning to appreciate its beauty.   

Berlin’s Museum Island |www.germanyja.comI have to say that I am one lucky lady.  I get to live in Germany for a few years and experience some amazing moments.  I hope that when I am in the middle of each of those moments, I can take a second to remember just how lucky I am.  There is little doubt that the treasures tucked safely within the walls of the museums on Museumsinsel Berlin will make you feel the same way.

The visitors’ entrances to the Neues Museum and Pergamonmuseum are located at Bodestraβe 1-3, 10178 Berlin.  Both museums are open Monday through Sunday from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM.  On Thursdays, the museums are open until 8:00 PM.  Ticket prices for the museums include audioguides.   Tickets for individual museums cost twelve Euros for visitors over the age of eighteen, and tickets for all exhibits on Museum Island are eighteen Euros for visitors over the age of eighteen.  People under the age of eighteen can visit the museums for free.  More information, including instructions on how to purchase tickets in advance, can be found at www.smb.museum.

Tips For Your Trip:

Berlin’s State Museums website

Location:

Bodestraβe 1-3
10178 Berlin

Getting There:

U-Bahn: U6 (Friedrichstraße)
S-Bahn: S1, S2, S25 (Friedrichstraße); S5, S7, S75 (Hackescher Markt)
Tram: M1, 12 (Am Kupfergraben); M4, M5, M6 (Hackescher Markt)
Bus: TXL (Staatsoper); 100, 200 (Lustgarten); 147 (Friedrichstraße)

Hours:

Open Daily: 1000 – 1800
Thursday Extended Hours: until 2000

Tickets:

All visitors under 18: Free

Adults:
Individual Museum: €12.00
All museums on Museumsinsel: €18.00
Year pass to all museums: €25.00

Tickets can be purchased online here

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