Four of the Foundation's five institutions have buildings at the Kulturforum. During the period when Germany was divided, the Foundation developed the Kulturforum as its main location. This is where most of its new buildings were erected. The Kulturforum is now being enhanced further by the construction of the new museum of twentieth-century art.

New Beginning in the Divided City

The focus of the Foundation’s construction activity during the years of a divided Germany was at the Kulturforum. The Museumsinsel (Museum Island) and the original Staatsbibliothek (State Library) building were located in the eastern part of the city. In the western part, the Kulturforum was chosen deliberately as one of the Foundation’s locations. Its proximity to the Berlin Wall and the historical center was seen as an opportunity to reconnect in the case of reunification. Moreover, the area at the southern edge of the Tiergarten, which had been severely damaged during the war, was to be enhanced again by cultural functions. The planned Philharmonie, designed by Hans Scharoun, was also located at the Kulturforum and was already under construction.

In 1962 it was decided to construct new buildings at the Kulturforum, not only for the Staatsbibliothek but also for the collections of European art of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin). In 1965 the Foundation decided to house the Nationalgalerie in another new building. In 1969 it decided to locate the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung (State Institute for Music Research) and its Musikinstrumenten-Museum (Museum of Musical Instruments) here as well. Since 1969 as well the Palais Gontard, in nearby Stauffenbergstrasse, has been the seat of the general directorate of the Staatliche Museen.

The Staatsbibliothek and the Neue Nationalgalerie: Landmarks of Modern Architecture

The first building to open was the Neue Nationalgalerie on the Landwehrkanal at the southern end of the Kulturforum in 1968. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had originally designed it as the "Galerie des XX. Jahrhunderts" (Gallery of the twentieth century) for the State of Berlin. That collection, which is the property of the State of Berlin, and the collection of the Nationalgalerie have been operated jointly since 1967 and presented since 1968 in the Neue Nationalgalerie at the Kulturforum. The opening of the exhibition building by Mies van der Rohe drew international attention. The bright, isolated structure of steel and glass has become an icon of modern architecture.

The new building for the Staatsbibliothek opened in late 1978. It was based on designs by Hans Scharoun with crucial support from Edgar Wisniewski and is based on the architecture of the Philharmonie building. Inside there are spacious, light-flooded reading landscapes.

The Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut (Ibero-American Institute) is also located at the Kulturforum. It was initially in the Siemens-Villa in Berlin-Lankwitz. In 1966 the institute was integrated into the plans for the new building for the Staatsbibliothek. It opened in 1977, the year before the Staatsbibliothek began operation.

The Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung and its valuable collection of historical instruments, the Musikinstrumenten-Museum, moved next door to the Philharmonie in 1984. Its new building was also designed by Hans Scharoun with crucial support from Edgar Wisniewski. Previously the institute had been in Charlottenburg and then in the Joachimsthalsches Gymnasium in Wilmersdorf and in the Bendlerblock.

The New Buildings for the Museums of European Art

An architecturally coherent complex was to be built at the southern end of the Tiergarten for the collections of European art. A competition was held from 1965 to 1967. Work based on the designs by Rolf Gutbrod was not begun until the late 1970s.

In 1985 the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) opened as the first phase of construction. The second phase of construction included a shared entrance, a room for temporary exhibitions, the Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings) and the Kunstbibliothek (Art Library). These museums opened in 1994. The Kupferstichkabinett was able to unite the holdings from East and West Berlin.

In 1998, the Gemäldegalerie (Old Master Paintings) was completed and opened as the last building in this location. The planning to house the part of this collection that had been in West Berlin, which were at that time being shown in Dahlem, had begun already in the 1980s. In the context of discussions of reorganizing the museums, that plan was reconsidered. Returning the Gemäldegalerie to the Museumsinsel, where its holdings had previously been exhibited at the Bode-Museum, was also discussed. In 1991 the SPK’s Foundation Board decided to continue with the new building for the Gemäldegalerie at the Kulturforum. It was built based on plans by the architectural firm Hilmer & Sattler. By contrast, the plan to house the Sculpture Gallery at the Kulturforum, which also began in the 1980s, was abandoned. The collection later moved to the Museumsinsel.

Diversity of the Collections at the Kulturforum

The Kulturforum brings together internationally significant collections belonging to the Foundation. It is the home of the Gemäldegalerie (Old Master Paintings), Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts), Neue Nationalgalerie, Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings), Kunstbibliothek (Art Library), Staatliche Institut für Musikforschung (State Institute for Music Research) with its Musikinstrumenten-Museum (Museum of Musical Instruments), the Staatsbibliothek (Berlin State Library) and the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut (Ibero-American Institute). The diversity of these collections reflects every facet of European art, thought, and culture since the end of the Middle Ages. The following era and its developments are represented in a wide variety of media: paintings, prints and drawings, photographs, books, craft and design objects and instruments are all to be found at the Kulturforum.

Tradition of Modernism at the Kulturforum

The new museum of twentieth-century art will create a focus on modernism at the Kulturforum. With this new building, the Foundation is keeping up the site's traditional identity. Few other places in Berlin reflect the history of the last century as clearly as the Kulturforum and its immediate surroundings do.

The renowned art collector and philanthropist James Simon lived in an exclusive neighborhood nearby, the “Geheimratsviertel”. Paul Cassirer set up his celebrated gallery not far from Kemperplatz. The military complex in the Bendlerblock and the embassy district, which was created along the southern edge of the Tiergarten park during the Nazi era, are places redolent of recent history. In the other direction is Potsdamer Platz, which before World War II was one of the busiest traffic junctions in Europe.

The erection of the Berlin Wall brought this hub of metropolitan life to a sudden stop. World War II and unrestrained post-war demolition created an urban wasteland. In the 1960s, icons of modernism rose from the ashes, such as the Philharmonie, designed by Hans Scharoun, and the Neue Nationalgalerie, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. In architectural terms, the modernist tradition in the late twentieth century is represented by Hilmer & Sattler's building for the Gemäldegalerie.