Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Island of Museums

Its been a busy week what with work, ballet magazine translations and a few social events so postings about Berlin have been delayed. This will be the first of a few - including on this one random pictures - about one of my favorite European cities.

The Berlin Cathedral shares the northern end of the Spreeinsel(Spree Island)with the five museums that make up the former Royal Museum complex.

On my first trip to Berlin the famous Museum Island or rather the shells of the buildings on the Island were inaccessible though some of the treasures were scattered in museums in the West sector. The area around them - the two Cathedrals, the Armory, the historical centre of the city - had been left in ruins by the East German government who used them as an object lesson of the legacy of Fascism. It was only 1986 the Eastern Germans informed the West Germans that if they were willing to pay for reconstruction fine if not the whole lot would be bulldozed. Fortunately the FRG agreed and with the fall of the wall 20 years ago reconstruction of the five museums went into full swing.

The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) underwent major renovation between 1998 and 2001; an early example of the use of brick and iron it's styled on a Greek temple

On my second visit in 1998, in an now united city, only two of the five - the Altes Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie were open - the other three were under much needed reconstruction and renovation. With the reopening of the Neues Museum this past October the Island is now complete. And museum hoping was the reason for our little weekend jaunt. We broke our rule of maximum 2 churches 1 museum a day by skipping the churches and hitting two museums each day. Saturday morning was the Bode Museum, that afternoon the Neues; Sunday morning the Pergamon and that afternoon though it is not part of the Island complex the new and close by Museum of German History in the old Zeughaus (Arsenal).

The latest museum to open, the Neues holds the Egyptian and Pre and Early History artifacts. A wing and facade which had been bombed during the war were restored and collections from the former East and West were reunited.

Some quick observations: I found the reconstructed Neues Museum a very unwelcoming space. The mixture of what was left of the old decor from the 1800s and the modern just didn't work and the displays were crammed into often cramped and badly lit spaces. The famous head of Nefertiti has a room to itself and would have been interesting if not for the constant barrage of totally unnecessary flashes - the damn thing is well lit enough that I could get good photos without my flash.
The Pergamon is named for the eponymous altar that was taken from the Acropolis of Pergamon (near modern day Bergama) in Turkey. It was reconstructed in the Museum, that was partially built to contain it, in 1910.

The Pergamon, currently under renovation, is a renowned collection and again the constant barrage of forbidden and unchastened flashes from cameras and glaring mistakes in the English audio guide information are unacceptable from a world class museum. That being said the Pergamon Altar and Ishtar Gate are breathtaking and a special exhibition dedicated to Dionysus and the Gods had some fascinating pieces. Apparently their Islamic collection is worth an afternoon's visit in itself and I'll save that until next time.

The Museum of German History is housed in the old Zeughaus (Arsenal)on Unter den Linden just before the Museum Island. Its the oldest building (1695-1706) on the boulevard. You have to admit that pink is a rather striking colour for a building storing military arms.

The collection in the Museum of German History is an extensive and fascinating one and the renovated areas - I. M. Pei's work - are exceptional. The only problem is that the lighting is so low keyed that at times it is impossible to read the labels and some of the artifacts are shrouded in darkness. I came out with a bad case of eye strain.

At the very end of the Island, the Bode was reopened in 2006. Originally called the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum it was renamed after its first curator Wilhelm von Bode in 1956.

So was I happy with any of the museums? Well we had saved the best, in my opinion, for first. The Bode Museum is magnificent. Though constructed in the late 1800s the building itself is a fine piece of baroque-style architecture and the collection is displayed in large, airy and well lit rooms. The Byzantine collection, though small, is extremely fine and the sculpture collection is filled with stunning examples from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Italian Gothic and Baroque. Of the four it was my favorite and deserves a revisit.

Frederick the Great heads down Unter den Linden towards the old palace. In real life he was more frequently seen heading the other way, he never liked Berlin preferring to live in Sansouci in nearby Potsdam.

One of the nice things about Berlin museums is that you can get a three day pass - that actually covers some 20 museums in the city - and the admission includes audio guides with very comprehensive details on all the major items in the collections. Now that's user friendly!

North of the Museum Island stands Bertolt Brecht's Berliner Ensemble Theatre. This area is close to the Frederichstrasse Station and crammed with restaurants, wine bars, galleries and nice shops. It was a great area to stay in.

I'll be writing about a few individual pieces from each of the museums in the next day or two.

15 novembre - Sant'Alberto Magno


Blake said...

Good to hear from you again. I was beginning to worry. As I maybe visiting Berlin this coming summer you posts are of particular interest to me. I hope the puppies survived you being away and so busy on your return. Being left and then not having your undivided attention on your return is hard on puppies. Love to you and the puppies. Uncle Pervy.

Anonymous said...

I've never visited Berlin but your posting makes me want to book a trip. Taking in museums in the cooler weather is definitely the way to do it too.



for some reason in my head and imagination i never thought of berlin as a pretty city...but it is..thanks..

scott davidson said...

How are we looking at the paintings of Mark Rothko these days?
Is he old hat, replaced in America by more contemporary concerns? Looking at his minimal canvases and their enticing floating squares of subdued paint live at the MOMA recently, I had to stop to wonder whether he still communicates to a modern and younger audience., the site that sells good canvas prints to order from their database of digital images, has many Rothko prints. I ordered this one, Blue and grey,, that I have now hanging in my study. I can spend a long time looking at this elusive image that takes me to some other place not in this world.