BERLIN — Berlin is a treasure-trove of ancient relics, cultural artifacts and priceless art, boasting more than 175 museums, but its main attractions are housed on the breathtaking Museuminsel (Museum Island), the northern part of the Spree River island, where Berlin was founded some 800 years ago.
The city is in the process of renovating Museuminsel, located on the eastern end of Unter den Linden in the Berlin district of Mitte.
The five museums there include the legendary Pergamon Museum, the Altes Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Neues Museum and the Bode Museum.
Recognizing its importance, UNESCO put the site on its World Cultural Heritage list in 2000.
Of the five museums, it is the Pergamon that attracts the most visitors, drawn by its spectacular treasures and its star attraction, the Gate of Ishtar from the ancient city of Babylon.
The 42-foot-tall gate, dating from 600 B.C., with its blue ceramic tiles and intricate designs of mythical animals, was excavated by German archaeologists between 1902 and 1914 and transported to Berlin, where it was rebuilt along with other wondrous exhibits that were intended as tributes to the goddess Ishtar.
Among other ancient architecture in the museum are the Hellenistic Pergamon Altar, from a Greek temple complex in what is now Turkey, and the Roman Market Gates of Miletus.
The Altes Museum (Old Museum), designed by neoclassicist architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the early 19th century, currently hosts the Berlin Egyptian Museum’s fabulous collection, which was reunited last year after six decades of division. The collection had been stored in warehouses scattered around Berlin during and after World War II; after the Allies divided up Germany and Berlin following the war, some warehouses ended up in East Germany and some in West.
Berlin’s Egyptian holdings are among the top in the world outside Cairo, rivaling those of the British Museum, the Louvre in Paris and New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
The exquisite limestone bust of Queen Nefertiti is the focal point of the Berlin collection. It will remain at the Altes Museum until renovation work on the exhibit’s original digs in the nearby Neues Museum is finished by 2008 or ’09.
The Neues Museum, which was severely damaged by wartime bombing and largely neglected by East Germany’s government, also will house the Primeval & Early History Museum collection, currently displayed across town in Charlottenburg.
The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) boasts a wide-ranging collection of 19th-century painting and sculpture, with a current exhibition of painter Max Beckmann.
Although it’s empty at the moment, the Bode Museum has been attracting plenty of visitors eager to see the results of several years of renovation work on the impressive building. The Bode opened its doors in December to the general public, but the museum’s collections of antique and Byzantine art won’t return until July.
Other major museums around the city offer something to interest just about everyone.
Haus am Checkpoint Charlie
Located at the famous American sector border crossing between East and West Berlin, Haus am Checkpoint Charlie is a must for anyone interested in the Berlin Wall and the city’s Cold War history. The permanent exhibit documents the grisly history of a city and country divided by ideological and political extremes and chronicles the inventive means by which adventurous East Germans managed to escape to the West.
Jewish Museum Berlin
Designed by Daniel Liebeskind to resemble a Star of David that has been torn apart, the Jewish Museum opened in 2001 to rave reviews, although it was the building’s unique architecture that generated much of the press. A permanent historical exhibit documents 2,000 years of German-Jewish life.
Museum fur Vor-und Fruehgeschichte
Schloss Charlottenburg, Langhansbau
Set to move into the Neues Museum, the Primeval & Early History Museum collection traces the evolution of homo sapiens from 1,000,000 B.C. to the Bronze Age and includes impressive artifacts from the excavation of Troy by wily German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann.
Deutsches Historisches Museum
Unter den Linden 2
Recently renovated, the Museum of German History soon will house a permanent exhibit chronicling 2,000 years of German and European history. The museum also has various temporary exhibits.
Trebbiner Strasse 9
The German Museum of Technology offers a quirky collection of industrial objects that epitomize the Teutonic penchant for precision, with exhibits examining the industrial revolution and travel by railway, ship, air and space.