First off, if you are going to visit the museums of Berlin, get a three-day Berlin Museum card. It is 24 Euros and will save you time, money, and it will make you feel like a winner. Even if you use it for two days it is worth it. I like the museum passes in most cities because it allows me to see what I want to see and then move on. I don’t feel like I have to stay in one museum because I paid 16 Euros to get in. With a pass I can zip around, see what I want to and be on to my next museum before the paint is dry. It also allows you to skip lines. Lines for the Pergamon can be long, but with a museum pass, walk around the line and find the dude with the ticket reader and cut right on through like you are an Italian. My advice for getting the pass is to find the museum that will have the shortest line (the museums out at the Kulturforum are usually lightly attended because the bus tourists don’t go there) and buy your pass early in your first day, you can easily knock out several museums each day if you don’t have to wait in line and you don’t have to walk through each room of the museum like a dutiful museum visitor. I follow the creed that if I don’t like it, I don’t have to spend time looking at it.
If there is one museum in the world that just took my breath away, it is this one. It is the one museum I would require everyone visit. Not because the museum is masterfully put together, or has an astounding collection of beaded work from Mesopotamia, but because it has three of the largest structures I have ever seen inside a building. There isn’t anything I can really say that will over hype this place, it is simply amazing. There are always lines here, and there is an unending construction project that makes it difficult to find the entrance; last time I was here, five years ago, they were doing construction on Museum Island and the entrance was on the west side of the building, this time the entrance was from the south. My advice is to come from the direction of the Berliner Dom and cut about 10 minutes of walking out of your day.
Walk around all the saps in line and head into the building. Do you need a audio-tour? I get these little devices sometimes, but most of the time by the time I get to exhibit #5 on my audio tour I am tired of all the history and my brain hurts, so unless I am going to spend a bunch of time in a museum I usually pass on the audio tour. Anything I have questions about I can always look up on the interwebs afterwards.
When you turn the corner into the main room of the Pergamon you will see the biggest stairway and altar ever taken from one place and moved to another place. Stealing stuff from the ancient world was a crime, but come on, when I can go to Berlin and see this my ethical compass has problems recalibrating. Take some time, so and sit on the stairs look around, take some pictures, and then move to the east and through the doorway to the next big thing. This room has a marketplace from Rome or something, it is cool and everything, but after seeing the Pergamon Altar it looses some of its wonder. If I saw this marketplace in a Seattle museum I would have been blown away, but in the Pergamon it barely registers. The last room that is a must visit is through the southern door on the other side is…the Gates of Ishtar from the ancient city of Babylonian. The first time I saw this I really could not believe it existed. The color, the detail, the size, all of it rivals the Pergamon Altar. The rest of the museum is lots of really old stuff and I looked at some of it, but if you really want to keep my attention you need to make it big and old, little and old is okay, but big and old is always a winner.
While on Museum Island make sure you drop in to see this museum of old Egyptian stuff. I wasn’t going to visit the museum initially, but Doctor Phillip advised me that I must see it while we were drinking beer along KuDam on my first night in Berlin. Phillip told me that it was beautiful, he even did the Italian thing where he put his fingers up to his mouth and made a kissing sound indicating that is was extra-lovely. He was right, this museum was pretty good. The worst part of the museum was that each room seemed to have a different rule about taking pictures and I wasn’t sure if this was just to confuse me or if it was done so that the German museum guards can yell at people. Either way, there were a lot of great hieroglyphics and the bust of Nefertiti was amazing like Dr. Phillip told me. (Imagine me putting my fingers to my lips and making kissing noises.)
I wanted to go to this museum to see the two Vermeer paintings and that was about it, but I was pleasantly surprised by the collection of really interesting old paintings. I arrived early at the museum, actually I arrived 24 hours early to find out that the museum is closed on Monday, but I did not let that hold me back and returned 24 hours later and jumped passed the line and was off into the many rooms. I had a little guide that was supposed to take me through all the rooms, but I abandoned that thing in about 10 minutes since I can walk and chew gum at the same time I figured I would not get lost and I was right. The rooms I jogged through were the portrait rooms but the rest of the rooms had some pretty cool paintings. What I liked most was the humor found in the paintings.
The Neue Nationalgalerie:
The best part of this museum was the old statutes upstairs. The paintings downstairs were okay, but a lot of the modern art movement is lost on me. Mark Rothko is the guy I always think of when I think of art that I just don’t get and here is a fine example of his work. It is better in real life, but skeptics of modern art aren’t going to buy too many of his paintings because “my kid could paint that.” Most of the art in this collection I would classify as “protest art” which is interesting but not always beautiful. I would say that the only reason to drop in here is to do it because it is close to the Gemäldegalerie and if you have a museum pass it doesn’t hurt.