The Best Museums in Berlin
Whether or not you consider yourself a museum goer, Berlin’s 170 (or so) museums are sure to serve up at least one or two collections that pull you in. History, culture, art, food, and more: it’s all inside (or, at the East Side Gallery, painted directly on) the walls of Berlin’s museums. Art lovers should head directly to the Hamburger Banhof Museum or the Bauhaus Archive. Want to look at the wall that once divided the city you’re exploring? It’s the open air East Side Gallery for you. For those who want to explore the history of WWII, the Holocaust, and of the history of the Jewish people in Germany, Berlin offers several incredible institutions, including the Jewish Museum and the German Resistance Memorial Center.
Knesebeckstraße 1-2, 10623 Berlin, Germany
Bauhaus—the German design, crafts, and architecture school founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius—is one of the most famous design movements of the 20th century, and this Berlin museum shows its impressive breadth and influence. Designed by Gropius himself and completed in 1979, the building holds a wealth of Bauhaus items such as furniture (lamps, chairs, tables), ceramics, photography, and theater pieces by an array of the movement’s most famous teachers and practitioners, including Gropius, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (Note: The museum is temporarily located in the Charlottenburg district while the main building is being renovated and extended to pay tribute to the movement’s centennial.)
Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin, Germany
The architecturally striking Jewish Museum is the best place in Berlin to get an overview of German-Jewish relations and to understand the nature of the integration of the two cultures before the Holocaust’s horrors. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the building is clad in polished silver metal and features severe angles and thin window slits that create a deliberately jarring impression. The interior is equally intriguing, especially the three long, intersecting corridors that lead to installations addressing aspects of the Holocaust: a garden of pillars meant to disorient; a windowless Holocaust Tower; and a space filled with thousands of grimacing iron masks that grind together as you walk on them. Across the street, the Jewish Academy (open to the public) has a related research center, library, and educational institution.
Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Occupying a prominent space between Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, this memorial (also known as the Holocaust-Mahnmal, or Holocaust Memorial) has almost 3,000 gray oblong pillars (stelae), arranged at varying heights, that form a kind of labyrinth intended to reference the disorientation felt by Europe’s hunted Jewish population. Designed by New York architect Peter Eisenman, it opened in 2005. The effectiveness of the labyrinth is arguable; you may see groups of teenagers playing tag and picnicking on and among the blocks. However, there’s no denying the power of the site’s underground information center, which relates some of the life stories of Holocaust victims. Several other smaller but related memorials are nearby, dedicated to homosexuals, gypsies, and victims of National Socialist euthanasia killings.
Bombed to smithereens during World War II, the Neues Museum—inaugurated in 1855—reopened in 2009 following a slow and sensitive reconstruction by the office of British architect David Chipperfield; both the building and its inspiring contents are well worth the visit. The current structure, featuring delicately restored frescoes, beautifully renovated columns and doors, and deliberately preserved war damage, won the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award in 2011. The museum’s collections comprise thousands of ancient artifacts from the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, the Museum of Prehistory and Early History, and the Collection of Classical Antiquities. Highlights include a 3,300-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti, the famous Neanderthal skull from Le Moustier in France, and Heinrich Schliemann’s collection of antiquities from Troy.
Mühlenstraße 3-100, 10243 Berlin, Germany
The most famous remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall gets its name from its location on the east side of the Spree River, as well as from its collection of political and satirical murals. Originally painted just after the wall fell, the murals were repainted (or in some cases painted over) in 2009 as a way of cleaning up the increasingly decayed originals and in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall. Today, a fence partly protects the gallery to prevent vandalism of the murals, but people throng here nonetheless, especially in summer. A museum at the site tells the fascinating story of the structure through interactive displays, original newsreel footage, and filmed interviews with Berliners who lived on both sides.
Stauffenbergstraße 13, 10785 Berlin, Germany
Berlin’s German Resistance Memorial Center, close to Potsdamer Platz, recounts the city’s tales of resistance against the Nazis. The center is in the Bendlerblock, a historic military building where the expansion of the German navy was planned during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the role of the German army was reassessed during the Weimar Republic. In addition, several of those involved in the July Bomb Plot to murder Adolf Hitler and bring down the Nazi regime in 1944 were executed in the building’s courtyard. A permanent exhibition, spread across a couple of atmospheric floors, documents the bravery, as well as the diversity, of those who fought against the Nazi dictatorship.
Bodestraße 1-3, 10178 Berlin, Germany
One of the biggest stars of the five museums on Museum Island, the Pergamon was the last to open, in 1930. Built to resemble a Babylonian temple, it houses a trove of ancient treasures from the Middle East, with highlights that include the enormous Pergamon Altar, dating from around 170 B.C.E. and featuring a dramatic frieze showing a battle between gods and giants; the two-story Market Gate of Miletus, built by the Romans in 120 C.E.; and the equally impressive Ishtar Gate, from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II in the 6th century B.C.E. Another poignant highlight, given the large influx of Syrian refugees into the city since 2015, is the 17th-century Aleppo Room, a reception chamber from a merchant’s house with exquisitely carved wall decorations.
Museum Island, Berlin, Germany
Visiting at least one of the five museums that make up Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a must for any serious culture-seeker in Berlin. A pioneering concept, this ensemble of public institutions brimming with exquisite artworks and historical artifacts traces its origin back to 1810 and King Friedrich Wilhelm III’s decision to open a museum for his personal collection of royal treasures. Today, the original Altes Museum—located opposite the former Royal Palace—is joined by the Pergamon Museum, with its jaw-dropping Middle Eastern antiquities; the Neues Museum and its treasures from ancient Egypt; the Alte Nationalgalerie’s collection of 19th-century European masters; and the Bode Museum, which hosts one of Europe’s most important sculpture collections.
Molkenmarkt 2, 10179 Berlin, Germany
Opened in 2018, this contemporary museum showcases the notorious decade that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in the city: one that saw the joy of an unexpectedly sudden German reunion merged with a rush of young artists and techno ravers taking advantage of the capital’s slew of empty, cheap (sometimes free!) spaces. The organizers have reflected the hedonism of those years with a heady, sometimes chaotic mix of multimedia installations accompanied by specially commissioned street art, video interviews with those who were there (photographers, politicians, DJs, club owners, punks)—and a bass-heavy soundtrack throughout. The one moment of sobriety comes with a large room, deliberately ice-cold, that memorializes those who lost their lives to the brutality of the Wall itself.