Museumsinsel – Central Berlin’s collection of five museums built over a century

As the UNESCO comments:

The museum as a social phenomenon owes its origins to the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. The five museums on the Museumsinsel in Berlin, built between 1824 and 1930, are the realization of a visionary project and show the evolution of approaches to museum design over the course of the 20th century. Each museum was designed so as to establish an organic connection with the art it houses. The importance of the museum’s collections – which trace the development of civilizations throughout the ages – is enhanced by the urban and architectural quality of the buildings.

柏林的博物馆岛: 博物馆是一种社会现象,源于18世纪的启蒙运动。柏林的博物馆岛共有五个建于1824年至1930年间的博物馆,是一种理想的实现,展示了20世纪博物馆设计方式的变革。各个博物馆的设计都有意地在其艺术藏品之间建立起有机联系,而各建筑的规划和建筑质量又大大提升了馆中藏品的价值,这些藏品展示了各个时期人类文明发展的历史。

The Berlin Museumsinsel is a complex of buildings composed of individual museums of outstanding historical and artistic importance located in the heart of the city. The five museums, built between 1824 and 1930 by the most renowned Prussian architects, represent the realization of a visionary project and the evolution of the approaches to museum design over this seminal century. They form a unique ensemble that serves purely museological purposes and constitutes a town-planning highlight in the urban fabric as a kind of city crown.

The Museumsinsel of Berlin is a remarkable example of the urban and architectural realisation of an urban public forum which has the symbolic value of the Acropolis for the city. It is appropriate to emphasise its rare planning and architectural continuity and the consistency with which for more than a century a concept has been continuously implemented.

The cultural value of the Museumsinsel is linked with its historic role in the conception and development of a certain type of building and ensemble, that of the modern museum of art and archaeology. In this respect the Berlin Museumsinsel is one of the significant and most impressive ensembles in the world. The urban and architectural values of the Museumsinsel are inseparable from the important collections that the five museums house, which bear witness to the evolution of civilization. The connection is a direct one, as the architectural spaces in the museums were designed in an organic relationship with the collections on display, whether incorporated as parts of the interior design or framed and interpreted.

Why are these five specific museums on the island in the center of Berlin inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage list? To conclude from the comments of the UNESCO as I’ve shown above, this complex, consisting of 5 museums, is not only special and important in its historical and artistic value, but also in the town planning and in the sense that a specific idea or concept has been continuously implemented for more than one hundred years. Inside the five museums, like many other renowned museums in the world, the collections play an important part in deciding the overall value of them. What’s unique here, unlike some of the world-wide renowned museums, is the organic connection between built between the collections and the buildings. That is to say, these five museums were not simply transformed from old palaces or residences to exhibition buildings to show the artworks. Instead, they were carefully designed with top urban and architectural quality to serve the exact purpose of museums and to meet certain needs of certain art collections. They represent the realization of a visionary project. From an even broader view of the five museums as a whole, this complex testifies the planning and architectural continuity as well as the evolution of approaches to museum design in more than one hundred years (from 1824 to 1930).

Having learnt so much about the precious values of this complex, now I’d like to show you how I am gonna organize this post. First of all, in the first chapter, I’m gonna provide you with some practical information such as the opening hours, ticket types and prices, and the types of artworks in each of the five museums. In the second chapter, I’m gonna show you the floor plan and the highlights accompanied by some of my comments or opinions in each of the museums. Please note that in each of the five museums, you can get a brochure called “Information and floor plans“, which includes the introduction of the museum, of its collection, the floor plans as well as the highlighted artworks there (most of my introduction in chapter two will also be based on these brochures). The brochures are available in a lot of languages and in my opinion they are indispensable in orienting your visit.

1. Practical information

In this chapter, I’ll first tell you what the collection in each of the five museums is so you can check which museums you are interested in and if you don’t have enough time to visit all the five museums you can choose a couple of museums that interest you the most. After that I’ll provide you with some information about the opening hours and ticket prices of each museum separately. In the end, I’ll also give you some information about museum passes such as “Berlin Welcome Card Museumsinsel”, “annual membership pass”, “3-day tickets”, “Museum Island all exhibitions” and “Museum Pass Berlin”. If you decide to visit more than two of the five museums then buying Museumsinsel pass (combined ticket) is definitely a better idea. As for which kind of pass you should choose, it depends on your needs and plans. I’ll explain more in the last section of this chapter.

1.1 Types of collections in the five museums

Pergamonmuseum: Collection of Classical Antiquities (Market Gate of Miletus); Museum of the Ancient Near East (Ishtar Gate, Processional Way of Babylon); Museum of Islamic Art (Facade from Mshatta, Aleppo Room). Please note that during renovations, the hall containing the Pergamon Altar remains closed until 2019.

Alte Nationalgalerie: Sculptures and paintings from the 19th century (including Caspar David Friedrich, Adolph Menzel).

Neues Museum: Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection (Bust of Nefertiti); Museum of Prehistory and Early History (The Berlin Gold Hat).

Altes Museum: Collection of Classical Antiquities (“The Praying Boy”).

Bode-Museum: Sculpture Collection; Museum of Byzantine Art; Works from the Gemäldegalerie; Numismatic Collection.

1.2 Opening hours and ticket prices for each of the five museums

Please note that below I’ll provide information concerning the opening hours and separate tickets to go to each of the five museums.

1.2.1 Pergamonmuseum:

Opening hours:

  • Friday – Wednesday: 10:00 – 18:00
  • Thursdays: 10:00 – 20:00

Ticket prices:

  • Full price: 12 €
  • Discounted price: 6 €

(please check by the end of this section whether you are qualified for concession or free tickets)

1.2.2 Alte Nationalgalerie:

Opening hours:

  • Friday – Wednesday: 10:00 – 18:00
  • Thursdays: 10:00 – 20:00
  • Closed on Mondays

Ticket prices:

  • Full price: 10 €
  • Discounted price: 5 €

(please check by the end of this section whether you are qualified for concession or free tickets)

1.2.3 Neues Museum:

Opening hours:

  • Friday – Wednesday: 10:00 – 18:00
  • Thursdays: 10:00 – 20:00

Ticket prices:

  • Full price: 14 €
  • Discounted price: 7 €

(please check by the end of this section whether you are qualified for concession or free tickets)

1.2.4 Altes Museum:

Opening hours:

  • Friday – Wednesday: 10:00 – 18:00
  • Thursdays: 10:00 – 20:00
  • Closed on Mondays

Ticket prices:

  • Full price: 10 €
  • Discounted price: 5 €

(please check by the end of this section whether you are qualified for concession or free tickets)

1.2.5 Bode-Museum:

Opening hours:

  • Friday – Wednesday: 10:00 – 18:00
  • Thursdays: 10:00 – 20:00
  • Closed on Mondays

Ticket prices:

  • Full price: 10 €
  • Discounted price: 5 €

(please check by the end of this section whether you are qualified for concession or free tickets)

Concession or free tickets:

Upon the presentation of relevant documents, discounted price (Concession ticket) (generally 50% off the admission fee) applies to:

  • schoolchildren
  • students
  • people engaged in national military or community service
  • unemployed people claiming “ALG I” job-seekers’ allowance
  • severely disabled people (with at least 50% reduction in earningcapacity)

Upon the presentation of relevant documents, free admission applies to:

  • Children and young people up to the age of 18
  • Schoolchildren in supervised groups on educational trips
  • University/college students in scheduled lecture time accompanied by a lecturer
  • Members of the International Council of Museums and the German Museums Association
  • Members of funding associations of one of the state museums of Berlin
  • Holders of press ID/accreditation cards
  • People in receipt of transfer benefits (“ALG II” unemployment benefit, social welfare benefit, basic allowance or benefits under the German social welfare law for asylum seekers)
  • People in possession of a medical certificate confirming that they are required to accompany a severely disabled person

If you only want to or only have time to visit one of the five museums on the Museum Island, then I would say the ticket information above is enough for you and please click here to buy your separate tickets online.  Nevertheless, if you are planning to visit 2 or more museums on this island, then it’s a better deal to buy the museum pass for all the five museums. Please read more in section 1.3 if you plan to visit more than one museum.

1.3 Museum passes

As you can see from the information I provided above, if you plan to visit any two of the five museums, the separate tickets are gonna cost at least 20 €. However, the “Museum Island all exhibitions ticket“, which gives you access to all the exhibitions in all five museums in one day, costs only 18 € (discounted price 9 €). If you wanna buy this type of pass online please click here.

One day is not enough to visit all the five museums? It is possible if you don’t wanna just take a glance at the highlights. Take myself as an example, I distributed my visit to the five museums in 3 days, for the purpose that I don’t need to hurry and I won’t get tired of looking at artworks for a whole day. Feeling the same? Then you should consider the “Berlin Welcome Card Museumsinsel“. This is the card I chose because in 3 days it does not only give you free entry to the Museum Island museums once a day(excluding special exhibitions), but also give you unlimited access to the public transport in Berlin zone AB or ABC (including Potsdam). It costs 44 € and 46 € to included zone C (Please note that discounted tickets for the museums are not applicable here). To summarize, if you wanna visit more than two museums and you are gonna stay in Berlin for more than three days and you need to take the public transport, then the “Berlin Welcome Card Museumsinsel” is likely your best option. It also gives you discounts for most of the main attractions in Berlin such as the TV Tower and Charlottenburg Palace. One thing you should notice is that for “Berlin Welcome Card”, you can choose to include the public transport for 2-6 days, but for “Berlin Welcome Card Museumsinsel”, which includes 3-day visit to the 5 museums, you can only choose to include 3 days public transport (not 2 days not 4 days etc.). If you wanna buy this type of pass online please click here.

If you are really a museum fan and are not satisfied with only the 5 Museum Island museums, you need to consider the “3-days Museum Pass Berlin“. This pass gives you access to over 30 exhibitions and museums including the Museum Island ones and costs 29 € as regular price and 14,50 € as reduced price (The conditions I mentioned above for the discounted prices of the five museums apply here). If you wanna buy this type of pass online please click here.

Not used to buying tickets online yet? Surely you can buy all he tickets or passes on site. If you wanna buy separate tickets to each museum or the “Museum Island all exhibitions ticket” on site, you can do it in the ticket offices located on the left side of the “Alte Nationalgalerie” but be careful because the line for buying tickets can be quite long. As for purchasing the “Museum Pass Berlin” on site, it is available at all museum cash points of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. For purchasing the “Berlin Welcome Card Museumsinsel” on site, you can get it at any of the Berlin Tourist Info Points.

Please note that as I read online and experienced by myself, the queuing time for the Pergamonmuseum and the Neues Museum can be quite long (1-2 hours). I’m not sure about other passes but “Berlin Welcome Card Museumsinsel” suggests that additional free timeframe tickets should and can be obtained online at or at Berlin Tourist Info Points. Using this ticket you can enter the museums at a chosen time slot and you don’t need to wait in the line. I didn’t do that and I really regret it. For the Neues Museum it wasn’t that bad but for the Pergamonmuseum I waited for like 1.5 hours…

(I’m not 100% sure how it works but (taking Pergamonmuseum as an example) I see from the online ticket shop that you can choose “Pergamonmuseum frei: übrige”, which means “Pergamonmuseum free: other” and I guess you should reserve a time slot like this and enter with the reservation together with your “Berlin Welcome Card Museumsinsel”? If you have any experience with the free timeframe tickets, could you please tell me how it works? )

I believe that the information provided above is all that you need to ensure a pleasant and successful visit. In the next chapter, let’s explore and discover the charm and values of all these five museums.


2. Explore the five fantastic museums

In this chapter I will introduce to you one by one the five museums in the order of Pergamonmuseum, Alte Nationalgalerie, Neues Museum, Altes Museum and Bode-Museum. In each of the museums, I’ll focus on the architectural aspect of the building first and then I’ll list its highlighted artworks or some other ones that impressed me a lot. As for the pictures I’ll attach the ones of highlighted works in full size and arrange the ones of details or other works in a gallery. Please note that I place Bode-Museum to the last not because it’s boring or not worth visiting, but because the entrance is different from the other four museums. This is very important because all the entrances to the other four museums are located along or close to the Bodestrasse on the island while the entrance to the Bode-Museum is located next to the Monbijoubrücke (Monbijou Bridge). You can not walk directly to the Bode-Museum without leaving the island because it is separated from the other four museums , but don’t worry, it’s only 8 mins away by foot. Having made everything clear, let’s start our adventure!

2.1 Pergamonmuseum

Designed and constructed by Alfred Messel and Ludwig Hoffmann from 1910 to 1930, this museum is one of the most visited and one of the biggest museums in Germany. It was originally constructed as a three-wing building but since 2013, under the guidance of the architectural firm Ungers, several sections of it have been undergoing refurbishment and a new wing will be added. I’m very sorry to inform you that the hall with the Pergamon Altar, the North Wing, the Hellenistic Hall and some other halls will be closed but you can still see the exhibition in the South Wing, where the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the Market Gate from Miletus are located.

On the first floor is the Collection of Classical Antiquities and the Museum of the Ancient Near East while on the second floor is the Museum of Islamic Art. Please note that the Collection of Classical Antiquities holds one of the most important collection of Greek and Roman artworks worldwide and the Museum of the Ancient Near East exhibits around 50000 artifacts obtained from the archaeological digs in Babylon, Assur, Uruk and Tell Halaf. Collecting masterpieces of the Muslim societies from the 7th to the 9th century, the Museum of Islamic Art is also one of the largest in the world and one of the most important of its type.

What you should absolutely not miss are the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, Market Gate from Miletus (Roman architecture from the time around 100 AD), the Alhambra Dome, the Mshatta-Hall and the Aleppo-Room. You can see the pictures of them in big size in the same order and details in the gallery above in this section.

2.2 Alte Nationalgalerie

The essential or ideal architectural design of the Alte Nationalgalerie was originally from the king Friedrich Wilhelm IV, who wanted to created a “sanctuary for art and science” in the center of Berlin between the palace, cathedral and university. Nevertheless, the actual, concrete floor plans were drawn up by Friedrich August Stüler, a student of Schinkels. By that tine, he had already designed the Neues Museum. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see the Alte Nationalgalerie be completed and after his death, another student of Schinkels, Johann Heinrich Strack finished the construction. On the birthday of Kaiser Wilhelm I, 22nd March 1876, this gallery was official opened, being the third museum placed on this island. After the Second World War, this building was damaged and the restoration started and in 1949, part of the museum was reopened. Since 1998, the building again had been undergoing a series of restoration work and technology modernization and was fully opened again on 2nd December 2001.

This gallery has a collection of paintings as well as sculptures from the beginning of the 19th century to the present day. It hosts one of the largest collections of the National Museums in Berlin and has the largest collection pf paintings by Adolph Menzel in existence. The artworks here range from Neoclassical and Romantic style to Impressionist style and they were created by master painters such as Caspar David, Friedrich, Max Liebermann, Edouard Manet and Claude Monet. On the first floor, you will see Classicist sculpture and facets of Realism while on the second floor you will find paintings and sculptures of Idealism, Realism and Impressionism. On the third floor the artworks are of Neoclassicism and Romanticism.

What you should absolutely not miss are the paintings and sculptures such as Princess Group by Johann Gottfried Shadow, the Flute Concert of Frederick the Great at Sanssouci by Adolph von Menzel (listen carefully how the painter achieved such lighting effect), The Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin, Summer by Claude Monet, In the Conservatory by Edouard Manet (pay attention to the relationship of the two people in the painting), The Age of Bronze by Auguste Rodin, and Monk by the Sea by Caspar David Friedrich. You can see the pictures of them in big size in the same order and details in the gallery above in this section.

2.3 Neues Museum

As I mentioned above, if you are worried about queuing up and waiting for entering certain museums, the Neues Museum is one of the two most crowded ones. In other words, this is also one of the most popular ones probably because of the world-renowned Bust of Nefertiti and the Golden Hat. Designed by Friedrich August Stüler and built between 1843 and 1855, this museum “stands as a monument to 19th century art appreciation, museum design and technological innovation”. However, it was severely damaged during the Second World War. In 1997, it was commissioned to the British architect David Chipperfield to refurbish the museum and the work began in 2003. Till the reopening in 2009, the façade and interiors were preserved with traces of damage while the original sheen of the building was restored.

Since its reopening the museum presents “spatially and thematically linked exhibits from three separate collections, which are the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, Museum of Prehistory and Early History and the Collection of Classical Antiquities. The collections here range from the Middle East to the Atlantic Ocean and from North Africa to Scandinavia. The Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection feature the images of the royal families, burial chambers and texts covering a long period of time from the ancient Egypt to the Late Antiquity, and the Museum of Prehistory and Early History include the archaeological findings in Europe and parts of Asian from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages.

The most noteworthy artifacts here are the Silver Vessels of Priam’s treasure, the Berlin Green Head, the Canteen Youth, the Bust of Nefertiti, the Golden hat and Hansaplatz Elk. You can see the pictures of them in big size in the same order and details in the gallery above in this section. What I’d like to emphasize a bit here is the Berlin Golden Hat, the best preserved specimen among the four known conical Golden hats known from Bronze Age Europe, and the Bust of Nefertiti, one of the most copied works of ancient Egypt. As I read from Wikipedia (Berlin Gold Hat) (Nefertiti Bust):

Modern scholarship has demonstrated that the ornamentation of the gold leaf cones of the Schifferstadt type, to which the Berlin example belongs, represent systematic sequences in terms of number and types of ornaments per band. A detailed study of the Berlin example, which is the only fully preserved one, showed that the symbols probably represent a lunisolar calendar. The object would have permitted the determination of dates or periods in both lunar and solar calendars.

The Nefertiti Bust is a painted stucco-coated limestone bust of Nefertiti, the Great Royal Wife of the Egyptian PharaohAkhenaten. The work is believed to have been crafted in 1345 B.C. by the sculptor Thutmose, because it was found in his workshop in Amarna, Egypt. It is one of the most copied works of ancient Egypt. Owing to the work, Nefertiti has become one of the most famous women of the ancient world, and an icon of feminine beauty.

Actually, I did see one copy of the Nefertiti Busts in Zurich and I recognized instantly that the original one is in the Neues Museum in Berlin. Please note that you can take pictures anywhere else in this museum but not in the Nefertiti Hall (my picture of it is just a picture of the postcard).

2.4 Altes Museum

Designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and built from 1823 to 1830, the Altes Museum is among the most important examples of Neoclassical architecture. Once you stand in front of the main entrance, doesn’t the atrium with 18 columns remind you of a Greek temple? The inscription above the portico reads: “Friedrich Wilhelm III founded this museum in 1828 for the study of all antiquities and free arts.” Once you pass through this atrium and go straight ahead, you will be at the Rotunda, the central cupola room decorated with antique statues of gods. Doesn’t this room remind you of the Pantheon in Rome?

The collection here is divided into two parts, on the first floor Greek Art and on the second floor Etruscan and Roman art. On the first floor, you will know more about Greek history and culture by discovering the stone sculptures, vases and statues made of bronze and clay, dating from the 10th to the 1st century BC. It is also on this floor, in room 4, that you will see an exhibition called “Work of Art, Money and Historical Testimony”, featuring 1300 ancient coins. On the second floor, artworks of the Etruscans and from the Roman Imperial Period are on display. The Etruscan collection is also the largest in the world outside Italy. Except the highlighted rooms, you might also be interested in room 5, Roman Villas – Luxury as a lifestyle and room 6, The Garden of Delights – The Art of Love in Antiquity.

What you should absolutely not miss are the Berlin Goddess with the original color coat, Dekadrachme of Syrakus, Drinking Cup of the Potter Sosias, Praying Boy, Etruscan Warrior, Knucklebone Player and the busts of Cleopatra and Caesar. You can see the pictures of them in big size in the same order and details in the gallery above in this section.

2.5 Bode-Museum

Bode-Museum was originally called Kaiser Friedrich Museum and changed to its current name in 1956 in memory of its spiritual founder Wilhelm von Bode. He was the director of the Gallery of Old Masters and the Sculpture Collection and later became the general director of the royal museums in Berlin. The plans of Bode-Museum were largely his idea. Though Wilhelm von Bode was the curator of the museum’s collections, the building was designed by architect Ernst von Ihne and the construction took place between 1897 and 1904. Ernst Eberhard von Ihne wanted to give the museum an impression of rising from the water so he chose to build it at the tip of the island and make it “hug the bank of the island from two sides”. Opened in 1904, this was the first museum exhibiting painting and sculpture on an equal footing. Unfortunately, like many other buildings in Berlin, it suffered severe damages during the Second World Way and the reconstruction took place between 1948 and 1986. After the Mauerfall (Fall of the Berlin Wall), this museum went through full renovation under the guidance of monument protection and made changes adjusted to the needs of a modern museum.

The collections here include the Sculpture Collection, Museum of Byzantine Art, and Numismatic Collection. The museum does not only house one of the largest collections of sculpture in existence, a world-class collection of Late Antique and Byzantine art, but also one of the world’d most important coin collections. What’s also notable is the time span of the collections here in Bode-Museum. For example, the sculptures date from the Middle Ages to the late 18th century, the Byzantine artworks date from the 3rd to the 15th century and the coin collection, made up of around 4000 items, record the history of coins and medals from the beginning of minting in the 7th century BC till today.

Covering art styles from Byzantine to Gothic, from Renaissance to Baroque and covering countries from the Netherlands to Germany, from France to Italy and even Spain, the artworks you should focus on are Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene, the Evangelist by Tilman Riemenschneider, Apse Mosaic from Ravenna, Pazzi Madonna by Donatello, Dancer by Antonio Canova, the Gold Medal with a Portrait of Alexander the Great and St. Sebastian by Martin Zürn. You can see the pictures of them in big size in the same order and details in the gallery above in this section. Do you wanna know in which forms are Jesus represented and what’s written in the book that Jesus is holding on the apse mosaic from Ravenna? Do you wanna know how Antonio Canova achieved such lightness and smooth movement in the sculpture Dancer? Listen carefully and your audio guide will tell you all the secrets.

If you are in Berlin, if you have enough time, I suggest you visit all the five museums on the Museumsinsel (Museum Island), not only for exploring and discovering the collections in them, but also for learning and understanding how the idea or concept of museum has been implemented and has developed over more than one hundred years. Of course the collections such as the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, the Market Gate from Miletus, the Flute Concert of Frederick the Great at Sanssouci by Adolph von Menzel, In the Conservatory by Edouard Manet, the Bust of Nefertiti, the Berlin Golden Hat, the Berlin Goddess, the Praying Boy, the Dancer by Antonio Canova, the coins and medals and many more, are among the most famous and the most important in the world, but during your visit, do keep an eye on how they are integrated into their surroundings and the buildings, and very soon you will start realizing the “organic connection” I mentioned at the beginning of the post. When I talked about visiting museums, I usually meant visiting the collections, but here on the Museumsinsel, I’m talking about visiting the collections, the architecture, the surrounding environment and the deeply-considered and clever integration of all of them as a whole.

Museumsinsel – Central Berlin’s collection of five museums built over a century was last modified: January 12th, 2019 by Dong

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