Berlin’s Museum Island is Home to Pharaoh Nofretete and More

Nofretete, Egyptian for “the beautiful one approaching”, was a princess from the area that is now Syria. She lived fourteen hundred years before the birth of Christ. She was the first female Pharaoh of Egypt, an absolute ruler, a goddess, and today, after a long and complicated journey, she has taken up residence on a small and distant island. It is an island that is anything but deserted, however. And it’s an island that is located in Berlin, of all places.

Nofretete had long been at home at the Egyptian Museum in Berlin-Charlottenburg (since 1967), awing millions of visitors throughout her many years there, but after the German reunification and long period of extensive restoration efforts, this elegant limestone sculpture has now found a more suitable residence at Berlin’s Museum Island.

The Museum Island, located between the river Spree and the Kupfergraben canal in Berlin Mitte, is the centerpiece of Berlin’s cultural heritage. This unique ensemble of five museum structures is an architectural collage that is well worth seeing in and of itself and houses some of the most valuable works of art that can be seen in Germany. It is the German Acropolis for the Arts so-to-speak, offering everything from antiquities to modern art, with each building offering a slightly different interpretation of its own history, as well.

The utopian plans for this complex of solitary structures were originally drawn up by Schinkel’s student Friedrich August StÃ?¼ler in 1841. They were used to construct the Neues Museum in 1859 and the Alte Nationalgalerie in 1876. In 1904 the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (today known as the Bodemuseum) was added. And finally, with the addition of the Pergamon Museum in 1930, after practically a century of work, the Museum Island ensemble was finally completed.

And yet the building never stops in Berlin. The institutions of Museum Island will soon be expanded even further. It should not be forgotten that approximately 70 percent of these structures were destroyed in the bombings of World War II and the reconstruction efforts have been considerable. Much was lost and yet room is needed for more. A small site just across the river from the island, once housing the guard for the nearby StadtschloÃ?Â? (The City Castle for the Hohenzollern royalty), has been chosen to become an extension of Museum Island. This new construction will house a gallery, restoration workshops and administration facilities

Taken together, the entirety of the works of art housed in these structures, along with others from the Altes Museum, the Museum of Anterior Asia, The Museum for Islamic Art and, of course, the Egyptian Museum, have become something of a world heritage “hub” for art treasures which span a period of over 6000 years. Some of the highlights include the Pergamon Altar, constructed in the second century BC, the Ischtar Gate of Babylon and the paintings of artists ranging from Casper David Friedrich, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and Adolph Menzel.

Another attraction for visitors are the many live cultural happenings which take place here in the summer months, the most popular among them being the Museumsinselfestival. These encounters between “world culture” and “live culture” (live concerts, the classics, modern pieces, opera and theater productions) take place between May and September and have become one of the established cultural offerings of the Berlin summer season.

Nofretete’s stay at the Altes Museum will be a temporary one, however. She won’t be leaving Museum Island, however. In approximately five years, when all of the island’s five structures have been completely renovated, she will come to her final resting place, along with the rest of Berlin’s great collection of Egyptian art, in the Neues Museum.

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