No visit to Berlin is complete without a few hours at the Neues Museum. After eleven years’ work, the star British architect David Chipperfield has created the most perfect museum for the city.
The history is fascinating. Friedrich August Stüler’s neoclassical building was erected in 1847. During the Second World War it was so badly damaged that the East German government could neither conceive how nor afford to restore it. For almost half a century the ruins were left to the elements, with trees taking root in its galleries and the Spree at times flooding its basement. Only with reunification, and deeper (West) German pockets, could the €200 million be found to resurrect it.
In an inspired and bold move, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation – along with other government bodies – chose not to simply restore the museum to its pre-war state. Instead they decided to preserve its ‘strange chronology’ – to quote Chipperfield – by linking together original material, war- and weather-damaged sections as well as modern elements. The result is a museum that can be read like a history book, the fabric of the building telling the story of Berlin.
Neues Museum and Museum Island -- Living History
Ride the U2 to Spittelmarkt and cross over the Kupfergraben to Fischerinsel, site of medieval Cölln, the sister town of Old Berlin. Turn left and follow the canal towards Schloßplatz, where the old Hohenzollern palace once stood. Ahead is Museumsinsel, dedicated to ‘art and science’ since 1841. As well as the Altes Museum, the complex – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – includes Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Altes Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum and the Pergamon Museum, which houses the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. How long will this final Walking Berlin walk take you? Well, a visit to the island’s museums requires a long-term view, not least because the renovation of the Pergamon – which has only just begun – is not due to be completed until 2028. So take your time, and enjoy.