Between the Ionic columns of the Altes Museum, where the collection of antiquities is on display, young people sit and chill. Under the trees on the banks of the Spree, a businessman in a suit is resting - his bicycle, complete with helmet, leans against the park bench next to him. And the lawn of the Lustgarten has now become a sunny spot for many Berliners in the afternoon. They lie on the wide lawn, while the after-work traffic rolls by on the street Unter den Linden. They are picnicking with their families or have met up with friends for a small, private after-work hour. A cool breeze is blowing from the Spree, and street musicians are playing on the bridge a little further on. At the eastern end of the Lustgarten stands the currently scaffolded cathedral, straight ahead you can see the Humboldt Forum to the south with construction cranes behind it. There's hardly a construction-free perspective here, and somehow it's nice that way. Typical Berlin.
Welcome to the new cultural center - the art area around the Museum Island, the newly opened Samurai Museum and the New National Gallery. Even as a Berliner, one is amazed here - so much is changing in a very short time, is in motion. It is being built, it remains exciting. Berlin has always been good at combining opposites: for example, venerable museums like the Pergamon Museum with a casual, young Berlin attitude to life. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Museum Island with avant-garde architecture such as David Chipperfield's James Simon Gallery. The elegant Bode Museum with the excursion boats of the Spreerundfahrten. Or, particularly impressive: old and new interwoven in Friedrich August Stüler's Neues Museum, which houses the Egyptian collection with the world-famous Nefertiti. What architect David Chipperfield has created here during the restoration is as surprising as it is grandiose: Even the huge concrete staircase in the war-damaged entrance hall with its open brickwork turns the 19th-century building into an exciting museum building of the present day. At the same time, one senses how respectfully and carefully Chipperfield's office has treated the historic building fabric.
We look today but not in the houses of the Museum Island, make instead a walk from the Samurai Museum Berlin over the New National Gallery to the Humboldt Forum. We want to take a look at the latest changes, and because the German capital is very extensive, we take the public transport - including the new U5 cultural line.
The ornate armor, ancient swords, masks, helmets and many other treasures from the world of the Japanese samurai have only recently moved from the former museum location in Dahlem to Auguststraße in Mitte. And the exhibition organizers around collector Peter Janssen have really given everything: In the new Samurai Museum Berlin, cultural travelers experience an inspiring show all about the impressive warrior status of the samurai.
But you see not only armor with unique iron driving works, masks with glued-on beards and gilded horse saddles. The valuable objects dating from the 8th to the 19th century are also embedded in a virtual reality technology that makes it possible to experience the world of the samurai up close in the darkened rooms. Fire suddenly crackles and hisses, followed by loud hammer blows on iron, while it is explained how samurai swords are forged. And touchscreens tell stories about the mysterious samurai, partly in the style of Japanese manga. Younger guests in particular will love Kitsune - the red fox that appears from time to time on the walls and the floor as a wandering comic projection and thus guides them through the exhibition in an entertaining way.
The Neue Nationalgalerie has not movedn - but it was closed for years, was completely renovated by the Berlin office of star architect David Chipperfield in line with the requirements of a monument. Now this icon of modernism, which was also the last architectural work by Mies van der Rohe, is shining again in new splendor. It houses world-famous 20th-century art in its base, including important works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso. Some of the works are to move to a new building - the Museum of the 20th Century - in the coming years, together with a collection of surreal art by the Pietzsch couple and 100 works by Gerhard Richter.
While the Samurai Museum Berlin and the New National Gallery are located on the geographical edges of the new cultural center, the heart of the cultural area beats around the Museum Island and the new Humboldt Forum, which has moved into the rebuilt Berlin City Palace. By the way, only the facade looks authentically historic, i.e. baroque. Inside, visitors can expect a very modern building, which is now gradually being filled with exhibitions, events and discussions and has thus become a place of international cultural exchange. The Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art have already moved in - and especially the exhibits in the Ethnological Museum triggered a debate about colonialism, power relations and looted art even before the official opening.
The museum deals with this constructivelyNevertheless, many questions remain unanswered - and of course they don't just concern Berlin. The exhibitions also invite people from all over the world to think about why European museums still find it difficult to return stolen art from the colonial era quickly. The Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a courageous speech on the subject at the opening. She praised the collections' claim to tell the universal story of humanity from many perspectives, but missed the dimension of power in the exhibitions. She asked, "Who actually decided to call African art 'ethnological'? And who has the right to exhibit the art of others?"
Exciting is in the Humboldt Forum The interactive exhibition Berlin Global also highlights how the city on the Spree is connected to the world - and what influence this in turn has on Berlin. In the interactive exhibition, visitors can walk through the door of the famous Berlin club Tresor, turn the wheel of time, look at the development of the city on a 360-degree screen with street art, or dance to the music of the decades inside a disco ball. Some of the themes are abstract - frontier, revolution, interconnectedness and participation - but their realization is true to life and inspiring. Those who want to fortify themselves afterwards and take a look at the new cultural center from above can take the elevator up to the roof terrace with bistro.
On the street in front of the new James Simon Gallery people on e-scooters whiz by. They share the street primarily with rickshaws and cyclists. A show about Heinrich Schliemann has just opened in the James Simon Gallery - on the occasion of his 200th birthday. And in the course of the year, the Freedom and Unity Monument will be erected between the Humboldt Forum and the Spree River on Berlin's Schlossfreiheit to honor the courage and civil courage of GDR women citizens in 1989/90. And it may also soon be possible to go swimming in the Spree in front of the City Palace. The city is planning to build steps on the bank in front of the Humboldt Forum - a so-called Flussbad. It is currently unclear whether this can be financed. Should the project come to fruition, it would be possible to sit right in the middle of Berlin by the river and perhaps take a dip to cool off - the water of the Spree has been clean enough for years.
Cover photo: the Samurai Museum Berlin has just moved to Mitte © Gregor Lengler
Berlin is exciting at every meter: there is a former airport converted into a leisure area, there is a glass dome of the parliament, there are the memorials of the Berlin Wall and the Holocaust Memorial. Lots of culture and lively neighborhoods. And for refreshments? Currywurst, of course. Or maybe a star restaurant. Anything goes in the capital. Our tips for your Vacation in Berlin.
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