Neues Museum: Meet Queen Nefertiti
Updated: Jun 22
The Neues Museum is the state museum housing the city's Egyptian collections. It features remarkable architecture and some outstanding exhibits.
The Museum Is Worth a Visit
The history of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, which was built amidst monumental challenges and new ambitions, specifically those of an evolving universal cultural capital, intriguingly mirrors the history of national identity from the era of the German Confederation to the Reunification. The Egyptian collections, once displayed in the Monbijou Castle, were moved to the Neues Museum in the mid-18th century, a complex that gradually became Museum Island.
Artifacts were initially acquired from donors and the Sultanate of Egypt. Later, archaeological expeditions led to the collection of numerous relics, and in 1913 the Egyptian Museum obtained its masterpiece: the bust of Nefertiti. An extraordinary ancient treasure whose authenticity is increasingly controversial, the bust was to remain in Germany. Evacuated to a safe zone, it was spared during the Second World War when the Neues Museum was severely damaged by Allied bombing.
Following the division of Germany, the bust of Nefertiti was displayed in yet another museum, this time in West Berlin, in Charlottenburg. It was only during the years of reunification and the restoration of the Neues Museum that the Egyptian collections returned to Museum Island in 2009. Today, the Neues Museum is one of the most visited national museums in Germany.
This is Not an Egyptology Museum
The restoration of the building, under the direction of British architect David Chipperfield, is grand and majestic in every sense. It's a remarkable architectural achievement, where original elements, notably the exterior facades still bearing the scars of the war, are perfectly complemented by an impressive interior design. Some rooms reverse perspectives, playing with both colossal and intimate spaces. The blending of new and old ensures total immersion.
This incredible impression remains consistent, but it perhaps exacerbates various issues associated with an occasionally inconsistent, if not conflicting, museography. Firstly, the Egyptian collections share the museum's four floors with those devoted to prehistory and protohistory, archaeological excavations conducted in Berlin, and intermittent inclusions of ancient or medieval elements. Like the Egyptian Museum, other museums have had their collections relocated to Museum Island and the Neues Museum.
The result is a somewhat disjointed collection. The Egyptian collections are spread unevenly across all four floors, which is disappointing. Secondly, the Egyptian collections lack a clear chronological thread, mingling artifacts from different centuries and millennia in the same room. The inconsistency of the informative inserts and the unreliability of the audio guide turn the visit into a largely contemplative experience, at least for the non-specialist.
The Bust of Nefertiti Alone is Worth the Trip
Undeniably, the excellence of the restored premises contrasts with the ultimately disorganized museography. Although the Egyptian collections vary in terms of quality and quantity and are presented differently, they remain the museum's primary interest. The Neues Museum is not a documentation center on ancient Egypt but an exhibition space, and given certain absolutely grand artifacts, a visit can be satisfied with the contemplative without diminishing the museum's educational dimension.
Despite criticisms and controversies surrounding the building's restoration, the authenticity of certain elements, or possibly disconcerting museography, viewing the bust of Nefertiti is a marvelous and unique experience. Of course, a museum cannot be reduced to its single centerpiece, yet here that seems to be the case. The enigmatic smile of the Egyptian queen provides a moment of profound delight. Nefertiti the Egyptian turned Berliner?
So, if you carefully choose your timing to avoid holiday and weekend crowds, and if you can disregard the watchful eyes of museum guards, whether it's for 30 minutes or three hours, alone or with family, during free time, on a guided tour, you'll be sure to meet Nefertiti. Note that admission is free for minors, and adults can take advantage of a very affordable day ticket that grants access to all national museums as part of an unforgettable cultural journey.
Reasons to Visit
A beautifully restored building
The bust of Nefertiti
A remarkable Egyptian collection in the basement
Reasons to Skip
Absence of a chronological thread
An unsatisfactory and unreliable audio guide
The impression of a hodgepodge museum