Essential Architecture-  Berlin

Neues Museum


August Stüler


Museumsinsel, Berlin


1859 The Neues Museum was bombed and left in ruins during the DDR. It is currently being rebuilt.


Greek Revival




  Neues Museum in 1850, View from Friedrichsbrücke
  Ruins of the Neues Museum 1984, View of the room of the south cupola
  The famous bust of Nefertiti
Neues Museum

The Egyptian courtyard, from Friedrich August Stüler, Das Neue Museum in Berlin, Riedel 1862The Neues Museum, located north of (behind) the Altes Museum on Berlin's Museum Island (a World Heritage Site), was built between 1843 and 1855 according to plans by Friedrich August Stüler, a student of Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The museum was partly destroyed in World War II (in some areas, only the outer walls remained) and is currently being rebuilt. The reconstruction is scheduled to be completed in 2009, after which the museum will exhibit the Egyptian and Pre- and Early History Collections, as it did before the war. Among the treasures shown will be the famous bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti.

Both as a part of the Museum Island complex, and as an individual building, the museum testifies to the neoclassical architecture of museums in the 19th century. With its new industrialized building procedures and its use of iron construction, the museum plays an important role in the history of technology.

Since the classical and ornate interiors of the Glyptothek and of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich were destroyed in World War II, the partly destroyed interior of the Neues Museum ranks among the last remaining examples of interior museum layout of this period in Germany.


East Facade of the Neues Museum with connection to the Altes Museum and the Colonnade, from Friedrich August Stüler, Das Neue Museum in Berlin, Riedel 1862The Neues Museum (literally New Museum) was the second museum on the Museum Island and was built as an extension to house the collections which could not be accommodated in the Altes Museum (literally Old Museum). These were the collections of plaster casts, the Egyptian museum, the prehistoric and early historic collections (Museum der vaterländischen Altertümer), the ethnographic collection, and the collection of etchings and engravings (Kupferstichkabinett). It is thus the "original source" of the collections in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin and the Ethnological Museum of Berlin. Although originally conceived as a general museum with a permanent collection, the "outsourcing" of individual collections, such as the ethnography collection, into separate museums illustrates the historical change from a general museum to a specialized one. This is a general development of most museums in the course of the 19th century.

Moreover, the Neues Museum is an important monument in the history of construction and technology. With its various iron constructions, it is the first monumental building of Prussia to consistently apply new techniques made possible by industrialization. As a further innovation, a steam engine was used for the first time in construction in Berlin. Among other things, it was used to ram pilings into the building ground. The soft, spongy soil around the River Spree requires buildings in the central area of Berlin to be anchored deep.



Construction of the Neues Museum began on 19 June 1841, under the auspices of a committee established by Frederick William IV, which included the curator of the Royal Museums, Ignaz von Wolfers, as well as Friedrich August Stüler. The king, with his cabinet, had already ordered that the construction project be assigned to Stüler on 8 March 1841. The poor quality of the ground at the building site became apparent quickly, when the workers discovered deposits of diatomaceous earth just below the surface. Therefore a pile structure was necessary under the whole building, consisting of 2344 wooden foundation piles between 6.9 and 18.2 meters long. To ram the piles in, a five-horsepower (3.7 kW) steam engine was used, whose power could be increased if necessary to 10 HP (7.5 kW). It drove the pumps that drained of the building site, the elevators, and the mortar mixing machines. The newsletter of the Berlin Architecture Association reported on the building site and the new technical devices.

On April 6, 1843, when the ceremony of laying the cornerstone took place, the foundations, including the cellars, were already built. Construction of the walls was completed at the end of 1843, so that by 1844, the cornice and roof of the museum were completed. In 1845, iron constructions, the construction of flat vaulted ceilings and brick-lining of the connecting gallery to the Altes Museum were completed. An auxiliary railway transported building materials from the street just west across the River Spree, Am Kupfergraben, to the steam engine-driven elevator. On the individual floors of the museum, rails were also used to transport construction materials. In 1846, the workers began work on the building's facade, apart from the sculptures in the pediments, and also started cleaning the interiors, building the marble stairway steps and began work on the flooring . These work had progressed well in 1847 and the costly interior fittings could begun. The March revolution of 1848 led to delays in the construction work, which was however not completely interrupted at any time. As soon as the respective areas were completed, the installation of the collection began, until the museum was finally opened in 1855 to the public, although work on parts of the interior decoration, in particular the wall frescos in the stairway, continued until 1866.

From the opening to World War II

When the Neues Museum opened, there were the Egyptian, patriotic and ethnographic collections in the ground floor, while the collections of the plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculptures from antiquity and Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Classic art works occupied the first floor. The collection of etchings and engravings and the so-called art chamber (Kunstkammer), a collection of architectural models, furniture, clay, pottery and glass containers, and church articles shared the second floor, along with smaller works of art from the Middle Ages and modern times. The Ethnology Museum (Völkerkundemuseum), founded in 1873, moved to its own building in 1886 on Königgrätzer Strasse (Street) (today Stresemannstrasse, this building was destroyed in World War II). Connected with this were the removal of the Ethnographic collection, the collection the patriotic antiquities, and part of the 'art chamber' collection. The newly founded Museum of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbemuseum) took possession of the remaining nearly 7000 objects of the 'art chamber' in 1875, and also moved to its own building, the Martin-Gropius-Bau, in 1881. The areas thus freed in the ground floor housed the Egyptian collection again, while the areas in the second floor were occupied by the collection of etchings and engravings.

From 1883 to 1887, an additional mezzanine level, which is not visible from the exterior, was added to the Neues Museum. The collection of plaster casts, a centerpiece of collections at the time of the construction, grew during the course of the 19th century to become one of the most extensive and most comprehensive cast collections. However, due to a change in public taste, it was handed over between 1916 and 1920 - with the exception of the largest statues - to the Berlin University, where it was destroyed to a large extent during World War II. In the halls of the first floor the vase collection of the antique museum as well as the papyrus collection of the Egyptian museum were installed. Changes in the ground floor, from 1919 to 1923, led for the first time to substantial changes in the original building. In the Greek courtyard, the apse was removed, the courtyard covered with a glass roof, and a new floor at the same height as the ground floor was added. Thus several rooms and cabinets for the display of the Amarna collection were created. In the adjacent areas of the ground floor, suspended ceilings were added to produce modern, neutral display rooms by covering the original decorations. The destruction in World War II followed these internal destructions of the original museum layout. In the bombardments on November 23, 1943, the central stairway and its frescos was burned, along with other great treasures of human history. In February 1945, bombs destroyed the northwest wing as well as the connection to the Altes Museum and damaged the southwest wing as well as the south-east facade (risalit).

After World War II and today

In the post-war period, the ruin of the Neues Museum sank into a slumber like that of Sleeping Beauty. Other museums of the Museum Island used the least damaged areas of the building for storage. Reconstruction work only started in earnest in 1986, but these efforts were aborted (both avoidably and unavoidably) several times, and in the process historical parts of the building were lost. For instance, the last remnants of the Egyptian courtyard were eliminated. For the intended reconstruction, numerous sections and fragments of the building were taken out and put in storage. After the consolidation of the foundations and walls, the building is currently being reconstructed with a planned completion date of 2008. This work is being done within the framework of the Masterplan for Berlin's Museum Island, with a cost of approximately €295 million. The northwest wing and the south-east facade, which were completely destroyed in the war, are being reconstructed according to plans of the English architect David Chipperfield, in a manner quite close to their original layout in the museum building. After the planned reopening in 2009, the museum will house the Egyptian museum and papyrus collection with its famous bust of the queen Nefertiti and other works of art from the time of the king Akhenaten. Portions of another major collection, artifacts from the Stone Age and later prehistoric eras from the Museum of Pre- and Early History, will also be on display. Thus the collections of two Berlin museums will return to their place of origin.

The Building
General map:  see above
Ground Floor (Erdgeschoss)
1) Greek Courtyard 2) Egyptian Courtyard 3) Main Vestibule 4) Patriotic Room5) South Vestibule 6) Vaulted Room 7) Ethnographic Room 8) Room behind the stairs 9) Historical Room 10) Hypostyle 11) Egyptian Tombs Room 12) Mythological Room

Upper Floor (1. Stockwerk):'
13) Main Stairs 14 ) Bacchus Room 15) Roman Room 16) South Cupola Room 17) Connection to Altes Museum 18) Room of the Middle Ages 19) Bernward Room 20) Modern Room 21) Greek Room 22) Cabinet of Laocoön 23) Apollo Room 24) North Cupola Room 25) Nubian Room

As originally built (see map), the Neues Museum was nearly rectangular, with the long axis of the building (344 feet or 105 meters) oriented north to south, parallel to Am Kupfergraben (the street to the west, across the River Spree), and a width of 131 ft (40 m). The building is nearly perpendicular to the Altes Museum, with Bodestrasse between them. The bridge connecting the two museums (destroyed during the war) was 23 ft (6.9 m) wide, 80 ft (24.5 m) long, and supported by three arches. The main stairway was located in the center of the building, which was the highest section (102 ft or 31 m tall).

The three main wings surround two interior courtyards, the Greek courtyard and the Egyptian courtyard. The northern Egyptian courtyard was covered with a glass ceiling from the beginning, but the southern Greek courtyard was first covered with a glass ceiling between 1919 and 1923.

Reopening in 2009

It is likely to contain information of a speculative nature and the content may change as the building approaches completion.

Architect David Chipperfield has been entrusted with the work on the Neues Museum, in the framework of the Museum Island Master Plan. In January 2006, Chipperfield handed over his completed Modern (German) Literature Museum (Literaturmuseum der Moderne) to the German Literature Archives in Marbach am Neckar (Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach). Currently (2006), the architect sees the completion schedule for the Neues Museum as endangered. The city of Berlin anticipates about 4 million annual visitors (at present there are 1.5 million) after completion of the buildings on the Museum Island. A new reception building for these visitors, the "Cube", is also planned to be completed in 2009. The "Cube", which will cost about 60 million euros, is currently under a planning freeze, which Chipperfield sees as also endangering progress on the Neues Museum (according to ZDF, the Second German Television channel). In view of the total cost of the Museum Island master plan (estimated to cost €1.5 billion, of which €295 million are for the Neues Museum), the controversy over the €60 million for the "Cube" appears disproportionate not only to the architect. A March 11, 2006 report on ZDF commented "if the planning freeze is not lifted by the end of the year, the entrance building (the "Cube") cannot be completed in time. The idea that the portable toilets and ticket containers which now stand in its place will still be there, is less than flattering for a world cultural heritage site."

Still, on June 24, 2003 the Federal Government Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs Christina Weiss, said on the occasion of the ceremony for the commencement of reconstruction of the Neues Museum, that the master plan has "nearly squared the circle: to emphasize the buildings as a historical inheritance, to logically direct the flow of the host of visitors, and to make ready... a modern infrastructure."

If the ministry overseeing reconstruction is able to square the circle and all goes according to plan, in 2009 the Neues Museum will also become part of the archaeological promenade. The archaeological promenade will be an underground passageway connecting all the buildings on the Museum Island, with the exception of the Alte Nationalgalerie. It will integrate the Neues Museum as an important part of the historical architectural context of the Museum Island. The Neues Museum's restored, expanded, and new galleries will then again offer, as they did before their destruction, a worthy framework for the collections of the Egyptian Museum and the Museum for Pre- and Early History. Finally, the building will at last represent a lasting monument in stone for its first architect, Friedrich August Stüler, who wished that "the whole building should form a center for the highest mental interests of the people, the likes of which no other capital would likely be able to exhibit."