Museumsinsel Berlin, Historical Center, and Humboldt Forum

  • The Museumsinsel and the original building of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin are located in Berlin’s historical center. In the future, the Foundation will present its museums’ non-European collections at the Humboldt Forum there as well.

    The Museumsinsel as the Original Site of the Berlin Museums

    In 1830 what is now known as the Altes Museum opened as Berlin’s first public museum. Its location opposite the palace and next to the cathedral and the Zeughaus (Arsenal) was chosen very consciously. Prussia was sending a signal of its high esteem for education and art alongside political power, religion, and the military.

    Subsequent building on this island in the Spree River followed the idea of continuing to develop the area, which until then had been used for commercial purposes, into a “sanctuary for art and science”.

    Historical Buildings by Outstanding Architects

    The present Altes Museum was built according to designs by Karl Friedrich Schinkel from 1823 to 1830. The facade of the building, with its eighteen columns and clear, broad portico, contrasts with the surrounding buildings. The rotunda is the heart of the museum. Originally it housed the ancient sculptures and the paintings collection of the Berliner Museum, founded by King Friedrich Wilhem III.

    The Neues Museum, a design by Friedrich August Stüler, was built from 1843 to 1855. The three-story building was supposed to house those holdings of the collections for which the present Altes Museum lacked sufficient exhibition space. These included the Königliches Kupferstichkabinett (Royal Museum of Prints and Drawings), the Königliche Kunstkammer (Cabinet of Art and Curiosities), the collection of plaster casts, and the Egyptian collections.

    In 1862, planning for the Alte Nationalgalerie – as it has been called since the 1990s to distinguish it from the Neue Nationalgalerie – began. It was also built by Friedrich August Stüler then, after his death in 1865, by Johann Heinrich Strack. The building is conceived as a museum temple on a high pedestal, surrounded by the Kolonnadenhof (Colonnade Courtyard). In 1876, the Wagener Collection opened there as the first museum for contemporary art in Germany.

    Between 1897 and 1904, the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, now known as the Bode-Museum, was constructed on the tip of the Museumsinsel (Museum Island). This three-wing building was constructed based on designs by Ernst von Ihne. The front building with its striking dome forms the entrance to the museum. The sculpture and painting collection that had been assembled by Wilhelm von Bode was shown here.

    Planning for the Pergamonmuseum begann in 1906. Another building on the Museumsinsel was necessary to house the archaeological collections of the Königliche Museen, which had grown enormously since the late nineteenth century. In 1907, the architect Alfred Messel presented his plans for a three-wing building with a fourth wing between dual colonnades. After Messel died in 1909, Ludwig Hoffmann took over the management of its construction, which had turned out to be difficult. The building was not opened until 1930, without its fourth wing. The central building held the Pergamon frieze. The building also housed the Near Eastern collection, the department of Islamic art, and, in its north wing, the “Deutsches Museum”, with German painting and sculpture.

    Western Cultural Heritage on the Museumsinsel

    The consequences of the Second World War, including severe damage to the buildings and losses from the collections, were felt for decades. Nevertheless, the restored museums were gradually reopened during the East German era. They evolved into a magnet for visitors. Only the Neues Museum remained a ruin of the war.

    Following German reunification, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) decided to bring its archaeological collections back to the Museumsinsel. The western pendant to the collections already on view there had been held in various buildings in Charlottenburg. The Bode-Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie were, each in accordance with its historical function, to hold the Skulpturensammlung (Sculpture Collection) and the nineteenth-century art, respectively.

    The Expansion and Modernization of the Museumsinsel Berlin with the Master Plan

    In the years that followed, the Foundation developed a master plan for the thorough restoration of all its buildings. The Museumsinsel Master Plan, passed in 1999, is also the basis for the expansion of the Museumsinsel and its development into a contemporary museum complex. Three of the five buildings have already been completed; all of the collections have been relocated according to plan. The Museumsinsel Berlin is thus once again presenting nearly all of the cultural heritage of antiquity and the European Occident that belongs to the Foundation.

    In addition to the five historical buildings, the James-Simon-Galerie is being built as a new entrance. It is being constructed based on plans by David Chipperfield. Since 2012, moreover, the Archäologisches Zentrum (Archaeological Center) has been in operation across from the Museumsinsel. It houses storage, workshops, and offices for the collections on the island, and its libraries and archives provide comprehensive infrastructure for research on antiquity.

    The Original Building of the Prussian Library Is Becoming a Research Library for Historical Collection

    In 1914 the Königlich Preussische Bibliothek (Royal Prussian Library) opened on the boulevard Unter den Linden, built in accordance with plans by Ernst von Ihne. The building was heavily damaged in the Second World War. Under the German Democratic Republic, the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in Berlin (German State Library in Berlin), one of the two successor institutions to the former Preussische Staatsbibliothek, used the building.

    Following German reunification, the libraries in West and East Berlin were merged under the roof of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz in 1992. Today the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin is the largest scholarly universal library in Germany. Under the motto “One library in two buildings”, it is continuing to develop the building on Unter den Linden into a research library for its historical collections. The modernization and renovation of the building require extensive construction. The second main building of the Staatsbibliothek is located at the Kulturforum near Potsdamer Platz.

    The Humboldt Forum: The Return of the Museums’ Non-European Collections

    On the site where the Berliner Schloss (Berlin Palace) once stood, south of the Museumsinsel, the Humboldt Forum is being built. The Ethnologisches Museum (Ethnological Museum) and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst (Asian Art Museum), which are currently located in Dahlem, will move there. Both collections will thus be returning to their origins in the former palace. In the future, they will form a pendant to the Western art and culture presented on the Museumsinsel.

    The bpk Bildagentur für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte

    The bpk Bildagentur für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte (Picture Agency bpk – Fine Art, Culture, History) was founded in 1966 as the Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Photo Archive of Prussian Cultural Heritage), with Hermann Handke’s Historisches Bildarchiv (Historical Photo Archive) as the foundation of its holdings. Organizationally, it is part of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. Today the photo agency is a central service facility located on the Märkisches Ufer.

  • Highlights of the Collections at This Location

    © bpk / Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, SMB / Sandra Steiß