Museum Island Overview of the Buildings
Altes Museum Neues Museum Pergamonmuseum Bode-Museum Alte Nationalgalerie James-Simon-Galerie Archäologisches Zentrum Erweiterung Bode-Museum

Alte Nationalgalerie

The First Museum to be Reopened

The reopening of the Alte Nationalgalerie in December 2001 marked the beginning of the revival of the Museum Island, and set standards in terms of architecture, preservation of historical monuments, and conceptual design. The architects’ office of HG Merz was in charge of the complete renovation.

Based on sketches by Friedrich Wilhelm IV, the museum was designed by Friedrich August Stüler between 1862 and 1865. After Stüler’s death, the construction of the impressive building was carried out by Johann Heinrich Strack. In 1876 it opened as the “Nationalgalerie.” Just as back then, sculptures and paintings from the 19th century are presented in the museum today.

© SPK / ART+COM, 2015

A Temple for the Arts

Visible from quite a distance, the temple-like building of the Alte Nationalgalerie towers above the eastern side of the Museum Island. It is enclosed by a colonnaded hallway. The resulting Colonnade Courtyard – Stüler’s Arcadia – was reopened in 2010. With its tall base and the stairway dominating the front of the main façade, the building, which was opened in 1876, became a monument to the newly emerging patriotic self-confidence of the time. This aspect is also emphasized by the programmatic inscription in the gable: “Dedicated to German Art.”

Complete Renovation of the Alte Nationalgalerie

The Alte Nationalgalerie was closed to the public in 1998 in order to undergo a complete renovation based on plans by the architects’ office of HG Merz. In the process of renovation, the historical structure was preserved. At the same time, state-of-the-art standards of exhibition technology were integrated into the museum. By building additional exhibition rooms on the third floor, extra space was created to present the reunited collection holdings from East and West Berlin. The Alte Nationalgalerie was reopened in 2001, exactly 125 years after it first opened.

Collections in the Alte Nationalgalerie

At the time it was built, today’s Alte Nationalgalerie was designed as a location for what was then contemporary art. At first it housed only German art ranging from the Enlightenment to Impressionism. Around 1900 the collection began to include French painting. The new concept with its international outlook entailed far-reaching structural changes to the interior of the building, thereby creating additional exhibition space. Today, the collection features artists ranging from Caspar David Friedrich and Johann Gottfried Schadow to Carl Blechen and Adolph Menzel and includes French Impressionism represented by Edouard Manet and Paul Cézanne. Lovis Corinth and the early works of Max Beckmann mark the transition to modern art, and to the Neue Nationalgalerie at the Kulturforum.

Alte Nationalgalerie in 1905 (photograph) Alte Nationalgalerie in 2001 (visualization)

Historical Views

With the Nationalgalerie, Stüler integrated a temple-like building into his overall concept of a “sanctuary for art and science.” He developed the blueprint for that museum between 1862 and 1865. The building opened in 1876. During World War II, the roof, staircase hall, outside staircase, and several interior rooms suffered particular damage. However, some parts of the museum could already be reopened in 1949, and both levels of the building were accessible to visitors from 1950 onward. In 1968, Mies van der Rohe built the Neue Nationalgalerie on Potsdamer Platz. When both Germany and the collections were reunited, the Nationalgalerie on the Museum Island eventually became the “Alte Nationalgalerie” (Old National Gallery).


As the Alte Nationalgalerie will not be connected to the Archaeological Promenade, the historical entrance beneath the flight of stairs will continue to be the only point of access for visitors. Visitors can reach the entrance via the Colonnade Courtyard which was reopened in mid-2010. In the future, the latter will also be accessible from the central reception building of the Museum Island, the James-Simon-Galerie, which will be connected to the courtyard by a colonnade hallway. On the eastern side of the Alte Nationalgalerie is an entrance for the disabled, with an elevator going directly to the level where tickets are sold.

Dates and Facts

  • Built: 1866-1876
  • Opening: 1876 under the name of the Nationalgalerie
  • Architect: Friedrich August Stüler; completed by Johann Heinrich Strack
  • Up to 1880: construction of the Colonnade Courtyard
  • 1911-1913: reconstruction of the first floor
  • 1944: heavy damage
  • 1949: reopening of the first floor
  • 1950: reopening of the second floor
  • 1992: HG Merz commissioned with the complete renovation
  • 1995: beginning of rebuilding measures on the exterior
  • 1998: beginning of complete renovation
  • 2001: reopening in keeping with timeframe and budget