The northern tip of the island on which the Prussian Imperial palace once stood was in the 19th century transformed into a museum district built to house all manner of national treasures, and dubbed Museum Island.
It really blossomed once German archaeologists returned with Middle East finds, and these still form the core of the collection, despite destruction and Soviet plundering at the end of the war. The war damaged museum buildings too, necessitating a long-term building project expertly renovating as well as physically connecting all the museums as part of a grand Master Plan. Until then this work may create temporary closures, so if you’re dead-set on visiting a particular exhibit, do check the website first.
It’s very hard to do justice to more than a single Museum Island museum in a day, so chose carefully in advance between the five available. All include hugely illuminating audio guides in their
• The Altes Museum is the place to go for fans of classical antiquities, with much ancient Greek pottery and sculpture on view.
• The Neues Museum presents the city’s impressive Egyptian collection, which famously includes the busts of Queen Nefertiti and King Echnaton.
• The Pergamon Museum is the largest museum on the island and probably gathers together the best of the city’s classical antiquities — particularly the Greek Pergamon Altar depicting a furious battle between the gods and the giants, plus the deep-blue-tiled Ishtar Gate and the processional way from Babylon.
• The Bode Museum concentrates on European sculpture through the ages, but its Byzantine wing provides an interesting insight into an intriguing extinct culture.
• The Alte Nationalgalerie is a museum of European art that’s particularly strong on 19th century German Romantics, like Liebermann, though it also has great works by Cézanne, Rodin,
Monet and Degas.