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Museumsinsel: a treasure island filled with art from around the world

One of the islands in the Spree river is home to so much world-renowned art that UNESCO has placed it on the World Heritage list. According to the UN cultural commission, ‘the unique collection of buildings illustrates more than a century of modern museum design’. It began in the 16th century with the pleasure garden near the city castle, and now Museum Island is home to 5 of the world's most prestigious museums.

The 16th-century Stadtschloss ('city castle') used to stand here on the island, but it was blown up in 1950 by GDR leader Walter Ulbricht and is currently being rebuilt. The palace garden can still be found, next to the majestic Berliner Dom and the Altes Museum full of classical antiquities. But the island is mostly known for its wonderful museums. The Neues Museum houses collections of Egyptian and prehistoric art, as well as ancient historic artefacts. The Alte Nationalgalerie displays paintings and sculptures. The Pergamonmuseum houses enormous structures of classical antiquities, and the Bodemuseum features a collection of coins and Byzantine art. In a row: three of Berlin’s most of famous art treasures.

Nefertiti, showpiece of the Neues Museum

‘The most beautiful woman in Berlin'

Forget Marlene Dietrich or Hildegard Knef: the most beautiful woman in Berlin is Queen Nefertiti. Together with Pharaoh Akhenaten, she ruled Egypt in the 14th century BC. Her limestone bust is more than 3,000 years old and has been buried for most of that time. Except for some minor damage, Nefertiti has been completely preserved. In 1912 she was excavated by a German archaeologist at the site where the studio of royal sculptor Tutmoses once stood. Now she can be admired in the Neues Museum.

Caspar David Friedrich’s monk

Dressed in a fluttering robe, Caspar David Friedrich’s lonely monk stands by the sea. The ‘painter of silence’ has become famous for his romantic landscapes. However, only a few of his works can actually be seen in Germany. In his work entitled 'Monk by the Sea', Friedrich depicts man, as usual seen from behind, dwarfed by the grandeur of nature. The bright sky, the empty beach and desolate sea are overwhelming. The painting is on display in the Alte Nationalgalerie, together with the ‘Abbey in the Oak Forest’.

‘Der Mönch am Meer’ by Caspar David Friedrich
The Pergamonmuseum

A Greek temple in Berlin

An ancient and ornately decorated city gate from Babylon, a colourful 15th-century state room from Aleppo, a huge market gate from Miletus – with such a collection it's no wonder that the Pergamonmuseum is Germany’s most visited museum. The showpiece is the Pergamon Altar, a Greek temple from the 2nd century BC, adorned with a 113 metre long frieze with images of gods and giants. The enormous altar was excavated in 1878 by a German archaeologist in what is now Turkey, shipped to Berlin and reconstructed. The Pergamonmuseum was later built around the altar.

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Museumsinsel, Mitte, Berlin

Photo credits

  • Nefertiti, showpiece of the Neues Museum: Santiago Atienza, Flickr
  • ‘Der Mönch am Meer’ by Caspar David Friedrich: adatw, Flickr
  • The Pergamonmuseum: pio3, Shutterstock