The bust of Nefertiti is the star exhibit at Berlin's Neues Museum / © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; Photo: Jurgen Liepe
It's said that the famous bust that earned her the title of 'the most beautiful woman in the world' can't be entirely accurate. Some believe that the area around the lips must have been smoothed and the nose softened – the equivalent of a pharaonic photoshop treatment – but even if this is the case, Nefertiti still draws the crowds. The unmistakable sculpture is housed in the Neues Museum in the German capital, and the pharaoh's chief consort is now queen of one of the most important artistic centres of Europe.
Berlin itself is a living exhibition, a city of endless scenery and perpetual movement and change, and it's really not surprising that the historical centre of a metropolis as open and unique as the German capital should be the site of a major artistic centre. The monumental complex that includes the five museums making up Museum Island has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Built between 1830 and 1930 in the gardens of the ancient castle of the Prussian kings and German emperors, close to Berlin Cathedral, the five museums are set in an area of less than one square kilometre.
Located on an island on the River Spree, together the museums house items drawn from more than 6,000 years of art, and pay homage to events and characters in the long history of Berlin: the Prussian Empire, Napoleon, Hitler, the world wars, communism, the fall of the Berlin wall... As well as the ancient bust of Nefertiti, there are Byzantine art works, Italian reliefs and major Baroque sculptures from Germany and around Europe. There are portraits and sculptures, as well as paintings from a whole range of schools, including romantic, impressionist and expressionist.
Buildings in the German capital suffered much bomb damage during the Second World War, and the entire Museum Island complex has undergone a period of major renovation, refurbishment and modernisation. Most of this work is now finished, but some areas remain closed and the collection locations are still subject to change; even so, the five museums are all open to the public with their extensive and impressive collections.
Altes Museum (Old Museum)
Built between 1823 and 1830, the Altes Museum is the oldest of the five, and a fine example of neoclassical architecture. It was designed on the premise of a museum as an educational institution open to the public, and originally housed all of Berlin's art collections. The permanent exhibition – the Ancient World – is closed until January 2011, but the internationally renowned collection of Etruscan and Roman art opened recently with a more comprehensive display than ever before.
Neues Museum (New Museum)
The building housing the Neues museum, the second museum of the complex, was badly damaged during the war, but reopened in 2009 after major refurbishment and restoration under the direction of renowned British architect David Chipperfield. The remains of the old building were conserved and the old structure respected. Now the Neues Museum houses the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection – where Nefertiti herself resides – and the Museum of Prehistory and Early History. Chipperfield has also designed the James Simon Gallery, due to open in 2012, which is to be located near the Neues Museum and serve as a visitor centre for Museum Island.
Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery)
Opened in 1876, the Old National Gallery, a temple-like building raised on a plinth, also suffered major damage during the war. It underwent various periods of restoration and was finally completely re-opened at the end of 2001. It now houses one of the largest collections of nineteenth-century sculptures and paintings in Germany.
Located on the extreme northern tip of the island, the building is arranged around a number of interior courtyards, allowing the exterior walls to border directly on the River Spree and give the effect of the building rising from the water. The roof is crowned with a dome of coppery brown. After restoration work to repair war damage, the Bode was re-opened in 2006. It now houses the Sculpture Collection, numismatics and Old Master paintings.
The most modern of the five museums, the Pergamon was not finished until 1930 and is actually comprised of three separate museums. It shares the collection of Classical Antiquities with the Altes Museum and also houses the Museum of the Ancient Near East and the Museum of Islamic Art. It is world famous for its treasures which include the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the Market Gate of Miletus.
Berlin Museums Portal