Museumsinsel: A walk through History

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Museumsinsel or the Museum Island is the name given to the northern half of an island located in the river Spree. This is where the 13th century town of Cölln, which was Berlins sister town, was located. Here you will find a complex of museums which are of international importance and are part of the Berlin State Museums. Since the year 1999 it has been regarded as a prominent cultural location and an archaeological ensemble for UNESCO World Heritage.

Here you will find clear marked references to the Age of Enlightenment and thereon the changing histories. Each museum resembles civilizational traits and development in museology. There are five museums which were built in between 1824 and 1930 approximately and display niche Prussian architects.


Museumsinsel is located in the Spree River and falls in the administrative district of Mitte of Berlin. The island can be accessed through trains, busses and trams.


The King of Prussia, Frederick William IV on 1841 dedicated the island, which initially was a residential area; towards the arts and sciences. Moreover, 1797 is when the first ever exhibition hall was constructed in the complex. It was erected on the suggestions of the archaeologist Aloys Hirt under the guidance of Wilhelm von Humboldt. Nowadays, the museums and the island in general is managed by Berlin State Museums. The unique complex serves purely musicological intents and is brilliantly able to highlight town-planning and its amalgamation with the urban fabric. It is Berlins very own Acropolis.

During the Middle Ages this section of the Spree Islands comprised of many marshes. Furthermore, during the 13th century, on the southern side of the island, the city of Cölln was established. Later-on major change came in the 17th century after the left side of the Spree was channelled that today’s Kupfergraben could arise.

The island has been of many specific uses throughout history. From being a conservatory for exotic trees and plants to being put to economic uses. During the 19th century the island played a crucial role in advancing the commercial endeavours of the region.

During the Cold War the city was subjected to a division and thus the collections from Prussia also got separated. But with the German reunification the collection was brought to a complete again. However, as the tragic World War II was beginning to end, the Allied troops removed most the valuable art pieces and they still remain not returned.

The design:

The complex apart from the museum buildings also comprises of the Lustgarten Park and the Berlin Cathedral. In the southern side you can also find Stadtschloss and the Palace of the Republic.

Furthermore, during the 1990’s under the directorship of Wolf-Dieter Dube and after a lot of convincing, and after millions of Euros were pumped in, the restoration and modernisation work finally began. It was later that same decade that UNESCO would declare the Spree Island as a World Heritage Site. Much of the due recognition was granted to the Island thereafter.

The complex consists of the following museums:

  • The Altes Museum or the Old Museum was constructed in 1830 as per the decree of Karl Friedrich Schinkel. It is often regarded as the birthplace of the public museums in Berlin. The museum is situated right next to the original palace and the cathedral. It has a broad atrium and a magnificent staircase which overlook the Lustgarten.
  • The Neues Museum or the New Museum was planned by Friedrich August Stüler and finished in 1859. He was the student of the legendary Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The museum was destroyed due to the bombings of World War II and David Chipperfield is responsible for rebuilding it later on in 2009 for the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. The construction of this museum is considered as pivotal as back then it was regarded as the sanctuary of art and science. The museum houses what are known as the most beautiful sculptures, viz., Nefertiti, Staatliche Museen’s collection, Museum für Vor-und Frühgeschichte, Heinrich Schliemann’s findings from Troy, Bronze-Age ‘Berlin Gold Hat’, and of-course much more.
  • The Alte Nationalgalerie or the Old National Gallery was again designed by the great Friedrich August Stüler himself. It was constructed in 1876 and was to host the donated collections of Joachim H. W. Wagener, a banker. This 19th century structure occupies art which can be classified as the one belonging to the ages of Romanticism and Neo-classicism, and realist paintings from Germany and France.
  • The Bode Museum is located on the extreme northern tip of the island and was opened in 1904. Here you can find a massive collection of sculptures and late Antique and Byzantine era. The museum is representative of neo-Baroque magnificence. It appears to rise from water at its northern tip. Here you can find works from: Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, sculptures from the Middle Ages and 18th century Europe, and the collection of Gemäldegalerie.
  • The Pergamon Museum constructed in the year 1930, it is the last museum of the complex. Here you can find many reconstructed and buildings such as Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon which carry historical significance. You can say that the star of the show is the Pergamon Altar, along with sculptures from ancient Greece and Rome.

Why visit?

‘On the Museum Island’ was a song by a folk artist Emmy the Great. Of-course that is not enough for you to visit the island, but, this is one almost city which just cannot be explored through photographs. Exploration does require a certain amount of time and patience and definitely not for the faint hearted. The mesmerising artefacts by themselves represent different parts of history and speak out the realities of their time. Museumsinsel is not alone for the history buff. You can begin with a boat ride and encircle the islands around and then begin your journey though the history of Europe.

The phenomenal structures on the island were the result of the Age of Enlightenment (18th Century Europe). Museumsinsel houses five museums and they were built between 1824 and 1930. Each museum building is a result of ingenuity, vision, and developments in the process of museum design. The design is representative of the organic connection it tries to build between art and its house. By coming here you will understand how today is formed and the relevance of the time that has gone by. In addition to the 5 museums the complex also houses:

  • James-Simon-Galerie: This is going to be the visitor center of the future. Here the visitors will be able to find the ticketing center for all the museums, information center, cafes, and a gift shop. All in all this will be like an entrance building having an auditorium and an exhibition hall.
  • Kolonnadenhof: As per the initial plans of the complex there was to be an outdoor space which would allow the visitors to stroll and sit after their long days’ worth of touring. Kolonnadenhof or the Colonnade Courtyard is that sort of a place, like a public garden. It was inaugurated on the 6th of June 2010. The sculptures displayed in the park are examples of Nationalgalerie’s sculpture collection and provide the visitors with glimpses of what they can find inside of the heritage museums.

There is also a library for public reference. You can find literature on the existing displayed items and historical documentations in and around the sculptures and arts. The library is equipped with an intelligent library specialist system which houses record of all the literature collection.

Learning is a lifelong process and Museumsinsel is a stepping stone, though an important one. The museums here by their own right are architectural marvels and represent passionate visionary individuals who through their art have influenced history. Knowing by seeing leaves an impression on the young minds and what better way to draw inspiration than visiting any museum for that matter. At Museumsinsel history quite literally speaks to you.


What else is around?

  • Republic Palace
  • Ddr Museum
  • Silent heroes memorial center
  • Berlin Cathedral
  • Fernsehturm Berlin
  • Berlin zoological garden
  • Deutsche oper Berlin
  • Museum of Greek and Roman Antiques
  • Chamaleon Theater
  • Anne Frank Zentrum
  • Monsterkabinett
  • Haus Schwarzenberg
  • Contemporary Fine Arts
  • Olympic Stadium
  • Jewish museum Berlin
  • Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church, et cetera.