A tour of Berlin’s best museums – 71Bait

From globally acclaimed art collections to disgusting food exhibitions (the simply named Berlin Disgusting Food Museum, in case you were wondering), Berlin leaves visitors spoiled for choice when it comes to museums. The selection is also growing: 2021 marked the long-awaited opening of one of Germany’s most important cultural projects, the colossal Humboldt Forum, which houses huge collections of non-European art. Other recent openings — including the interactive children’s museum at the Jewish Museum Berlin (Jüdisches Museum Berlin) and the newly renovated Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) — mean there couldn’t be a better time to explore Berlin’s cultural wealth.

Berlin’s museums are spread across the city, so stroll among them and you’ll see many sights along the way, including Berlin Cathedral and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Additionally, this four-mile trail passes many other attractions: a highlight is a stroll along Unter den Linden boulevard, where you’ll see the Neue Wache Memorial and the Berlin State Opera (Berlin Staatsoper).

1. GDR Museum

Begin your tour on the banks of the Spree at the brilliantly immersive DDR Museum, which offers a unique insight into everyday life in the former East Germany. Visitors are encouraged to touch the exhibits, many of which have come from private homes. Learn everything from Stasi surveillance techniques to East German obsession with nudism. Take a simulated ride in a Trabant – the cars were nicknamed “Trabis” – or explore an extraordinarily detailed reconstruction of an apartment in an East Berlin high-rise.

2. Humboldt Forum

Cruise across the Karl Liebknecht Bridge onto Museum Island, past the imposing Berlin Cathedral on your way to the gleaming new Humboldt Forum. Built on the plans of the 18th-century Royal Palace, which was badly damaged in World War II, the huge building combines the palace’s reconstructed Baroque facades and portals with clear contemporary architecture. In addition to a permanent exhibition on the history of the place, the Humboldt Forum houses the collections of the Berlin State Museums with objects and art from Asia, Africa and beyond.

3. Pergamon Museum

Stroll through the wide, green pleasure garden past the Old Museum to the Pergamon Museum, which is dedicated to ancient Roman, Greek and Oriental art and archaeology. The three-winged complex is home to a wealth of treasures and magnificent reconstructions of architectural monuments, including the brilliant blue 6th-century Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the 170 BC Altar of Pergamon (renovation to 2025). This is one of Germany’s most visited museums, so be prepared to wait in line.

4. Picture Gallery

The walk from the Museum Island along Berlin’s historic boulevard Unter den Linden takes you to the Brandenburg Gate. From there, head southwest through the leafy Tiergarten and you’ll come out at a cluster of modernist cultural buildings known as the Berlin Kulturforum. Here is the Picture Gallery – the gallery of old masters – with one of the world’s most important collections of European paintings. Take time to admire the masterpieces from the 13th to 18th centuries, including works by Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Raphael.

5. New National Gallery

It’s a short walk past St. Matthew’s Church to the striking steel and glass Neue Nationalgalerie, which reopened in 2021 after a major restoration. Its modern art collections chronicle the major movements of Europe and North America, focusing primarily on 20th-century artists but spanning some 150 years of art history. Greats such as Pablo Picasso, Gerhard Richter and Paul Klee are all represented here in a sizeable inventory of some 4,000 works.

6. Martin Gropius Building

End the visit at the grand Renaissance-style Martin-Gropius-Bau, which stands right on what used to be the border between East and West Berlin. If you approach it from the end of Niederkirchnerstrasse in Wilhelmstrasse, you will be walking alongside a section of the Berlin Wall. Originally opened in 1881 as a museum of decorative arts, the building was restored in the 1970s after severe war damage. Today it is one of the city’s premier exhibition spaces, hosting temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary art by the likes of Frida Kahlo and Ai Weiwei.

Did you know?
The five museums on Museum Island, whose combined collections trace the progress of civilizations over the centuries, form the world’s largest museum ensemble. The island is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Published in June 2022 problem of National Geographic Traveler (UK)

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