Berlin: The must-see museums of Museum Insel and Kulturforum

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Inside the Pergamon Museum on Museum Insel. Photo by sunside.
Inside the Pergamon Museum on Museum Insel. Photo by sunside.

Cheapos know that the best things in life are free, but sometimes a city’s best sights will cost you.

So that you know when it’s worth loosening those purse strings, here’s a guide to Berlin’s two most splurge-worthy museums complexes, the Museum Insel and the Kulturforum. And, of course, we’ll show you how to cut your costs.

Museum Insel: An art and architecture delight

A natural island nestled in the Spree, the Museum Insel (S-bahn: Hackescher Markt or Brandenburger Tor) consists of five museums housed in grandiose neoclassical buildings. You could save euros by simply strolling past the impressive exteriors, which feature columns, sculptures and double stone staircases, but it would be a shame to overlook the eight collections of artistic and archeological treasures located inside the Bode Museum, Pergamonmuseum (Pergamon Museum), Alte Nationalgalerie, and the Neues Museum.

The Gemäldegalerie. Photo by stijn.

The Gemäldegalerie. Photo by stijn.

Get the most bang for your buck at the world-renowned Pergamon, which features the walls of Babylon and other priceless artifacts that German archeologists dug up in Turkey and the Middle East in the early 20th Century (when the “finders keepers” mentality ran amok).

The talk of Berlin, however, is the newly renovated Neues Museum. Minimalistic interiors designed by British architect David Chipperfield provide a backdrop for the city’s Egyptian and pre- and early history collections. Not to be missed: a magical bust of Nefertiti that gives Mona Lisa a run for her money.

Cheapo style: Many Museum Insel museums boast free admission on Thursday evenings, four hours before closing (unless the museum is hosting a special exhibit). Normal admission costs between €8-10. Go ahead and skip special exhibitions, which cost extra (usually about €3): they usually aren’t worth the money.

The Kulturforum: Major exhibits and priceless paintings

Nestled just west of Potsdamer Platz’s sky rises, the Kulturforum (S-bahn & U-bahn: Potsdamer Platz) is a cluster of museums, libraries, and performance centers built in the 1960s and still going strong.

The two highlights are the Neue Nationalgalerie, a boxy, glass-sheathed museum designed by Mies von der Rohe, and the adjoining Museums für Europäische Kunst (Museums of European Art), a trio of three museums under one low-slung roof.

The Neue Nationalgalerie

Not only is the Neue Nationalgalerie an icon of modernist architecture, but the permanent collection of modern artwork by Max Beckmann, Salvador Dali, and dozens of other angsty European artists is among the finest in Europe. It is the museum’s stellar special exhibits, however, that make it not-to-be-missed on our list despite the steep admission (€12). Skipping a visit to the Neue would be like passing on the MOMA in New York or the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

The Neue Nationalgalerie. Photo by Carolina Mendonça.

The Neue Nationalgalerie. Photo by Carolina Mendonça.

Museums für Europäische Kunst

If you aren’t into the exhibit at the Neue, pop next door to the Museums für Europäische Kunst, its exterior a mélange of historic and contemporary architecture. Its three museums, the Gemäldegalerie (Painting Gallery of Old Masters), Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) and Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings) are often overlooked by tourists, but we think they’re well worth the price of admission.

With its amazing collection of European art—including works by Botticelli, Caravaggio, Goya, and Rubens—the Gemäldegalerie is especially worth the splurge. If you hate sharing museums with hordes of tourists, this is the place for you: as the city’s best kept secret, it’s rarely (if ever) crowded.

Cheapo style: Individual admission to the Kulturforum’s museums is usually about €8 (€4 with a student card). But for the same price, you can score a one-day ticket that covers the above-mentioned museums, as well as the Kunstbibliothek (Art Library) and the Musikinstrumenten-Museum (Music Instrument Museum). The pass doesn’t include admission to special exhibits. Like the Museum Insel museums, admission is usually free four hours before closing.

When the Neue has two special exhibits on tap, a combination ticket goes for €12. Most of the time, exhibits set up in the main, glass-lined hall because they’re small and easy to check out from the lobby. It’s the larger, basement-level exhibits that are (usually) worth the price.

For museum buffs: The three-day Museum Pass

Note: If you’re a major culture buff (and have the capacity to take in a lot of art and artifacts in 72 hours), you should spring for the three-day museum pass that covers all of the city’s government-run museums, which includes all of the above-mentioned museums and then some. It will set you back €19 (€8.50 for students), but it will end up saving you tons of money—as long as you do some major museum hopping. The pass, however, doesn’t include admission to special exhibits.

About the author

Susan Buzzelli

About the author: A Pittsburgh native, Susan Buzzelli has been a sworn Germanophile since she spent a high school summer as an exchange student in Buxtehude. After stints in Dresden, Munich, and Hamburg she settled (possibly for good) in Europe’s most dynamic city: Berlin. When she isn't exploring Berlin, she's traveling throughout Germany (with an occasional hop over the border). Her comprehensive guidebook to Germany, Zeitguide Germany, will be published soon. Look for updates on her website, www.susanbuzzelli.com.

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