Museum Island is one of the main tourist attractions in Berlin for culture vultures, antiquity appreciators and heritage fanatics – but what about those of us who just love a good painting? Four of the five museums on the Spree (The Pergamon Museum, The Neues Museum, the Altes Museum and the Bode Museum) focus on artifacts from around the ancient world and Stone Age Europe, but it is only the Alte Nationalgalerie that solely displays paintings and works of fine art. Included in the eighteen Euro Museum Island day pass, it is well worth an hour (or a day!) of your time.
The creation of a ‘National Gallery’ to display works of Prussian importance was a dream as far back as the 1830s, when then-Prince Friedrich Wilhelm IV, a passionate Romanticist, envisioned a “sanctuary for art and science” that would sit proudly alongside the Altes Museum (the called the Königliches Museum”) and the Neues Museum. Decades of failed planning and halted construction would follow, until 1862, when the National Gallery was officially founded after wealthy patron Johann Heinrich Wagner donated 262 paintings of both German and international provenance. A building to display these priceless works was now of utmost urgency.
Friedrich Wilhelm IV – now King of Prussia – had hastily sketched his dream museum before his death in 1861. Friedrich August Stuler, inspired by these sketches, submitted two failed proposals for the design before his third was approved. Sadly, he died before work could begin, and architects Carl Busse and Heinrich Strack were tasked with translating these ideas into a workable plan. Ground was broken in 1867 and the completed structure was unveiled to the public in 1876. King Friedrich Wilhelm IV finally had his dream come true – fifteen years after his death.
The building resembles a Greek temple raised high off the ground and accessible only by stairs, a design that at the time paid homage to the logic and thought of Ancient Greek art and philosophy. It was a thoroughly modern construction, utilizing brick and steel (which were thought to be fireproof). The Alte Nationalgalerie building, like the others on Museum Island, was badly damaged during the air raids of World War II, but its treasures were stored safely. It was the first to re-open to the public in 1949, but has had massive reconstruction since – including a three-year renovation between 1998-2001.
It is once again open to the public, and is now one of the most beloved art collections in Germany, housing the largest collection of 19th century art and sculpture in the country. From its birthplace, the National Gallery as an institution has gone onto much greater heights, with its collection displayed and stored at numerous museums around the country. Here at the original site you can view works by the great Prussian artists of the Neoclassical and Romantic movements. Works by Caspar David Friedrich (often regarded as the most important German painter of his age), Karl Friedrich Schinkel, and Karl Blechen are all on display, as are an impressive amount of works from the French Impressionist period, including Édouard Manet and Claude Monet.
Whether you want to admire the architecture, gaze at Monet’s waterlilies or take in the grandeur of Prussian royalty, the Alte Nationalgalerie is worth a look!
UBahn U6 (Friedrichstraße)
For the Alte Nationalgalerie alone: 12 Euro, Concessions 6 (Purchase online to save 1 Euro)
For a Museum Island one-day ticket: 18 Euro, Concessions 9 (Purchase online to save 1 Euro)
7 days a week from 10am-6pm (Thursdays open until 8pm)
Written by Jessica O’Neill