The Museum Island Berlin was included in the UNESCO World Heritage in 1999. Being one of Berlin’s main attractions, it is visited by about three million people each year. These two aspects have been taken into account in the Museum Island Master Plan which was agreed upon in 1999. The island, which is located on the Spree River and measures about one square kilometer will be developed into a modern museum complex. At the same time, the unique, historically grown ensemble of architecture and art will be preserved. All measures are being taken in close coordination with the authorities in charge of the protection of historic buildings and monuments. It is expected that the Museum Island Berlin will be completed in 2025/26 in accordance with the Master Plan.
Situated in the heart of Berlin, the Museum Island is encircled by the Spree River and the Kupfergraben. The buildings, of which there will be six in the future, are related to their urban environment in many ways. The Altes Museum, for example, borders on the Lustgarten, as do the Berlin Cathedral, the Armory, and the future Humboldt-Forum. There will be a central access to the Museum Island from Bodestrasse via the James-Simon-Galerie. The Bode-Museum on the tip of the island faces the Monbijoupark. At the same time, it establishes a connection to the Archäologisches Zentrum and the Museum Courtyards on the other side of the Kupfergraben.
The five historical buildings on the Museum Island were built between 1830 and 1930, reflecting a hundred years of museum architecture. Their magnificent collections illustrate the development of humanity from prehistoric times up to the 19th century.
During World War II the collections were broken up, and some of the buildings suffered severe damage. Eventually, German reunification provided a unique historical opportunity to once again reunify the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) in East and West Berlin under the umbrella of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation). Since then, the Museum Island, which is situated in former East Berlin, has also been part of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz. The Foundation soon began to envisage the redevelopment of the Museum Island.
Several architects’ offices were commissioned to carry out a complete renovation of the individual buildings. In the planning phase for the restoration of the Neues Museum, it became apparent that important decisions could not be made without treating the buildings on the Museum Island as a complete architectural unit. Hence, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz decided upon the Museum Island Master Plan, which was approved by the Foundation Board in 1999 as the basis for all further planning. The Museum Island Planning Group, formed in 1998, had taken on the task of developing and realizing the Master Plan. The group consists of the architects’ offices that had already been commissioned to restore the individual buildings, and is under the overall control of the office of David Chipperfield Architects.
In the Master Plan, the ensemble of five historical buildings is viewed as a unit in terms of content. At the same time, it pays respect to the architectural autonomy of each of the buildings. The character of the museums, which are rich in tradition, will be preserved by means of renovation measures that follow the official regulations for historical building conservation. Their historical entrances will be restored. At the same time, the buildings will come up to the expectations of the many visitors from Germany and abroad, and will be developed into a modern museum complex. This includes barrier-free accessibility.
In the future, the James-Simon-Galerie between the Neues Museum and the Kupfergraben will welcome the visitors with a pleasant atmosphere. It will be the main entrance both to the individual museums and the Ancient Architectures Tour. In addition, it will allow visitors direct access to the Archaeological Promenade. The new entrance building will also feature central service facilities such as a café, museum shop, and auditorium. However, each museum will keep its historical entrances. Thus there will be various ways for individual visitors to access and enjoy the collections of their choice at any time.
The archaeological collections on the Museum Island will be connected to each other in two ways. On the one hand, there will be the Ancient Architectures Tour once the fourth wing of the Pergamonmuseum has been built. Highlights of the Berlin museums will be presented on the main level of the Pergamonmuseum. By being exhibited in one of the four wings, each architectural object will be spatially associated with the collection of which it is part. A second connection between the collections will be provided by the Archaeological Promenade [interner Link] which will interlink four of the five buildings spatially and thematically. In terms of content, the overall focus will be on the great themes of human history.
In order to gain new exhibition space on the Museum Island, it will be necessary to relocate administrative, storeroom, and workshop facilities from the island to the immediate vicinity. The site of the former Friedrich-Engels-Kaserne on the Kupfergraben opposite the Bode-Museum will be used for that purpose. The Archäologische Zentrum was built in the northern section of the available space in 2012. Besides rooms for museum-related internal functions, it also houses an archaeological library and the Central Archive of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
The areas surrounding the historical museum buildings will be redesigned as well. In the future, visitors will be able to wander over the entire Museum Island and access parts that were long closed to the public. They will be able enjoy new impressions of the island in the heart of Berlin at any time of the day or night. The Colonnade Courtyard, which was reopened in 2009, already offers that experience today.
The collections on the Museum Island are unique and cover a wide range of themes from the beginnings of human history in Europe up to the 19th century. In the future, the non-European collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin will be housed in the Humboldt Forum located in the immediate vicinity of the Museum Island. In this way the Museum Island and the Humboldt Forum will complement each other wonderfully. If the paintings of the Old Masters were presented in combination with the Sculpture Collection on the Museum Island, the museum landscape would be perfect.
Over the next couple of years, the Berlin Palace will be rebuilt. It will become the Humboldt Forum, a unique center for the arts, culture, scholarship, and education – a venue of international attraction for a global community increasingly growing together.
As an extension of the Museum Island, the Humboldt Forum will present the collections of the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. These collections are currently kept and exhibited in the Dahlem museums.
However, the Humboldt Forum in the heart of Berlin will be more than just a museum. Partnering with the Land Berlin (Federal State of Berlin) and the Humboldt University in Berlin, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz will create a unique site for knowledge and international dialogue.
The unique museological program of the Museum Island spans a wide range of subjects from prehistory and the ancient civilizations of antiquity to 19th-century art. However, the Museum Island would only be complete if the paintings of the Old Masters were presented there as well. For years there has been an ongoing discussion about showing the Old Master Paintings collection, which is currently located in the Kulturforum, jointly with the Sculpture Collection on and near the Museum Island. These two collections have been exhibited separately since World War II. In order to present them in a way deserving of the international renown of the paintings collection, an additional building would be needed. In terms of urban planning, such a building could be constructed immediately opposite the Bode-Museum, complementing the latter. Thus, the Bode-Museum and the new gallery building would become one museum in two buildings, reuniting the Sculpture Collection and the Old Master Paintings.
It is unlikely that this ideal solution can be realized in the foreseeable future. However, both the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin view the joint exhibition of painting and sculpture as a positive way of conveying art history to visitors in an up-to-date and lively manner. Hence, there will be more emphasis than before on establishing a dialogue between paintings and sculptures in the Bode-Museum.