Berlin has culture, and then it has culture. On the one hand, its war-torn history has given rise to a city with a “live in the moment” kind of hardened mentality. On the other, it’s a softie at heart, with a sweet spot for history, museums, and the (street) arts. If you’re looking for a place that knows how to pull off that “sophisticated and cultured by day, hardcore punk by night” aesthetic, Berlin is it. The following Berlin art museums and sights are some of the best from the city’s arts and culture scene.
Museum Island is one of the most famous spots in Berlin, and you guessed it, a hotspot for Berlin art museums. The UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts not three, not four, but five museums and the Berlin Cathedral. The Altes Museum was the first to open on the island, after King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia opened an art collection to the public in 1830. Today, it houses ancient sculptures, remarkable mummy portraits, and flawless bronze statuettes. The Neues Museum is an art museum, famous for the Nefertiti sculpture within its Egyptian collection. The Alte Nationalgalerie exhibits Neoclassical sculptures and paintings, while the Bode-Museum is known for its Byzantine collection. Rounding out the group is the Pergamonmuseum, a fascinating architectural museum with wings on Islamic Art and the Ancient Near East.
The modern art museum’s white walls and exposed concrete floor fit the artwork’s minimalist aesthetic, allowing vibrant colors and neon lights to pop – especially the black light in the corner that looks like the lone soul leftover from Saturday night’s rave. It takes time to wander through the hangar-sized showcase rooms, so it is best to visit this Berlin art museum in the evenings to avoid the large crowds. Installations border from the mesmerizing (infinity mirror hallways) to the unsettling (chainsaw sounds coming from a dark room in the corner). Arrive with your thinking cap on and plenty of time to spare in order to fully appreciate the experience.
The immersive experience makes the Berlinische Galerie feel almost like a children’s museum. A really sophisticated, innovative, high-end children’s museum. The gallery exclusively exhibits modern art, photography, and architecture from Berlin-based artists. Yet, somehow curators find ways to push the bounds of this narrow perspective. The Berlinische Galerie isn’t your stereotypical, cut and dry, white-walled, long-halled art museum. Perhaps its most impressive feature is a collection that is accessible to the blind and vision impaired. Here, visitors are encouraged to have tactile interaction with 3D representations of the museum’s most famous works. Finally, a museum where you can touch the art.
Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM)
After absorbing all the arts, you can move on to some history. Whether you were the student who could never remember which German war was started by which emperor in which year, or you became the history-buff dad that somehow knows every obscure fact about the major world wars, the DHM offers a bit of something for everyone. Its permanent exhibit focuses on German history from the Middle Ages to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and includes ground-breaking photographs, jolting propaganda, countless artifacts, and more. Take a walk through nearly 1500 years of history in the old Berlin Zeughaus (armory), before jaunting across the street to the nearby Book Burning Memorial in Bebelplatz.
Hackeschen Höfe and Rosen Höfe
Berlin’s art museums aren’t just confined to inside space. The city boasts not just one, but eight secret courtyards. The network of hidden grottos is in Mitte, just a stone’s throw from Museum Island (disclaimer: throwing stones in downtown Berlin is not advised). Once the site of the historical Scheunenviertel (Barn Quarter), the art nouveau complex is now most revered as a symbol for the vibrant urban renewal of post-unification Berlin. Wandering through the maze of trinket shops, candy stores, art galleries, and boutiques provides a nice change of pace from museum hopping all day.
Kino Babylon is one of Berlin’s premier film houses. The cinema opened in 1929 and escaped WWII largely unscathed. It later became a center of cultural events for East Berliners during the DDR regime. Today, moviegoers can continue to enjoy screenings in the original fashion: free silent film viewings are accompanied by live organ at midnight on Saturdays. Cult classics, foreign language films, shorts, documentaries, and more often feature guest appearances from the filmmakers themselves. Keep a lookout for their legendary film festivals and series, like the Berlin International Film Festival in February.