Inside Berlin’s newest addition to the UNESCO-listed Museum Island

After 20 years in the works, the James Simon Gallery, which pays homage to the Jewish patron of Berlin museums, is getting ready to launch in the capital this weekend.

Inside Berlin's newest addition to the UNESCO-listed Museum Island
A view of Berlin's James Simon Gallery, set to open to the public soon. Photo: DPA

Set to open its doors to the public on Saturday, July 13th, Berlin’s James Simon Gallery will act as a visitor centre to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the collections housed within its five museums – the Bode, the Altes, the Neues and the Pergamon Museums as well as the Alte Nationalgalerie.

READ ALSO: Artists battle expulsions as rents spike in Berlin

Designed by star architect Sir David Chipperfield, the James Simon Gallery has been in the works for around 20 years. The building features an auditorium that can sit 300 people, special exhibition spaces, a permanent exhibition and media installations, a gift shop, a café and restaurant, various services like ticket counters and cloakrooms, and a terrace along the Kuperfgraben canal.

Described as a “linking infrastructure” by Chipperfield, the building will also provide the only entrance to the Pergamon Museum until renovations are complete there and offer a second entrance to the Neues Museum.

 “It was not clear at the beginning what this building should be,” Chipperfield said on Wednesday. “It is clearly not another museum. It is an infrastructural building on one hand.

“It provides lots of facilities. But it is also a linking infrastructure. It connects the buildings together and provides orientation to the whole idea of Museum Island.” 

READ ALSO: Inside Weimar's new politically charged museum

Sir David Chipperfield outside the museum. Photo: DPA

The modern new building acts as a continuation of Museum Island structures. This is most clearly seen in the colonnade outside. The 19th-century colonnade, on which bullet scars from World War II are still clearly visible, originally ended at the Neues Museum. Chipperfield’s design has slimmer, sharper columns that meet the original ones, creating an interesting juxtaposition between history and the present.

The group of museums in the heart of Berlin attracts 2.5 million visitors a year.

Tributes paid to Jewish artists and patrons

The opening of the James Simon Gallery was described by museum officials in Berlin Wednesday as both a historical moment and important homage to one of the most important benefactors of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Berlin State Museums).

James Simon, a Jewish businessman, philanthropist and art collector, donated approximately 10,000 items to Berlin Museums. One of his most famous donations is the Neferti bust. Sometimes dubbed Berlin’s Mona Lisa, the Nefertiti bust is housed in the Neues Museum. Simon also contributed funds that led to key excavations in the Middle East, such as that of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, which is on display in the Pergamon Museum. 

READ ALSO: Berlin inaugurates new Museum Island addition

Represented by Simon, the new visitor centre also pays tribute to other Jewish patrons and important members of Berlin society whose influence the Nazis tried to erase. “We want to do something to prevent us forgetting,” Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Preußicher Kulturbesitz, which oversees the city's museums, told reporters on Wednesday. 

Inside the gallery on Museum Island. Photo: DPA

One example of such a tribute is sculptor August Gaul’s “Reclining Lion” on display in the foyer. The statue was commissioned and owned by Jewish newspaper publisher and patron of the arts Rudolf Mosse in the early twentieth century. The statue survived World War II, stood for some time in the present Alte Nationalgalerie, and was restituted to the Lachmann-Mosse family in 2015 and reacquired by the Staatliche zu Museen in 2016.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is slated to officially open the building on Friday. On Saturday, the public will be able to walk through its doors and take part in a full-day of celebration and events.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!