Neues Museum reopens in Berlin after 70 years

Limestone and stucco bust of NefertitiThe Neues Museum in Berlin was the star museum of Germany, the abode of masterpieces like the iconic limestone bust of Nefertiti and the Helios colossus from late Roman Egypt. It was closed in 1939 and all its valuables put into storage in anticipation of inevitable war damage.

That was a wise move, because the central staircase was bombed in November of 1943, and the northwest and southwest wings and the southeast facade were damaged by allied bombs in February of 1945.

After that, the Neues found itself in East Berlin where it was left to decay until 1986. Some reconstruction occurred between 1986 and German reunification in 1990, but then it was halted again until full renovation and reconstruction began under English architect David Chipperfield in 1997.

On Friday, the decade plus of work finally paid off. The Neues is open again, and Nefertiti has her own room all to herself. Another 9,000 artifacts will be housed in the Neues, ranging from the Stone Age to barbed wire from the Berlin Wall.

And the neoclassical architecture, recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site, has been lent a modernist touch by British architect David Chipperfield. His painstaking €233-million ($347 million) revamp has sparked controversy by leaving some of the historic decay untouched. White modern stairways sweep past old bricks pocked by bullets in World War II, original columns still have fire damage and neo-classical mosaics and pseudo-Egyptian murals still seem to flake away on ceilings and walls.

That’s not the only source of controversy. Chipperfield removed some of the damaged structures, including the remnants of the one once-famous Egyptian courtyard. German groups have signed petitions and tried to add the museum to the UNESCO World Heritage Site to stop what they saw as cultural destruction.

Then there’s the controversy over Nefertiti herself, exported under shady circumstances in 1913. Zahi Hawass wants her back, but now that she’s the star of her own gallery at the shiny new museum, I doubt that’s likely.

Neues central stairway after November 1943 bombings Neues central stairway today

7 thoughts on “Neues Museum reopens in Berlin after 70 years

  1. Hawass will very likely NEVER get the bust of Nefertiti back although, a it stands, there seems to be much speculation as to the fraudulent 1912 origin of the statue. On the other hand, Hawass knows this and understands that tourists don’t care and would still flock to see the timeless piece.


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    1. Possession is nine tenths of the law and all that. Short of sending in an army to wrest Nefertiti from their clutches, I don’t see what Egypt can do to force them to cough it up.

  2. Egypt will likely get the bust back in time.

    Dr Hawass could indeed force them to cough it up. He could revoke and deny permission for all German excavations in Egypt, which would be a great blow. It’s entirely within his purview to do so. I would not at all be surprised if that’s the direction things go.

    1. It worked with the Louvre just a couple of weeks ago, but that was over some stele fragments of minor import that had been clearly stolen in the 80s. A major piece like this isn’t so easily wrested from a museum’s hands, especially when the circumstances of its export are murky and 100 years old.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Hawass took out the big guns either, but it’s not as cut and dried as his recent success.

  3. Good she stayed in Berlin. Would have been sad to find her looted by robbers or destroyed by the muslim brothers, like other egyptian artefacts were in recent times.

  4. I have been living in Germany since the mid ’90s and working in MLU Halle Wittenberg.

    Without a doubt, the Neues Museum is phenomenal. If there is one to see over and over again, it’s this one for sure.
    The atmosphere that was created to house the objects made their ancient presence come alive.

  5. Hi Fabien! Nice to find you here! I agree 100% with your comment. This Museum is a special place with a spellbinding story to tell.
    I would like to thank you for the informations that you sent us, particularly the articles by Sebastian Kratz and Rodrigo de Oliveira Guizzardi and the informations about photoelectric effect, prussian law and Christian Wolff. Highly interesting and useful!

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