Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Berlin museums

Neues Museum, Berlin. Source: Neues Museum.

Ulrike Knöfel, Haphazard and Uninspired: Why Berlin Is World’s Most Boring Museum City, Spiegel Online International, 16 July 2015

As far as major cities go, few other places are in possession of so many treasures that are so poorly exhibited as Berlin. It’s as though cultural institutions here go out of their way to keep people from visiting.

Berlin can be a lonely place, but that’s not always a bad thing. There are locations in the city, central and accessible to everyone, that are so quiet and empty they would lend themselves well to meditation. The only downside is that you have to pay admission.

For instance, take the city’s Museum of Decorative Arts inside the Kulturforum complex near Potsdamer Platz. It’s a recent Tuesday afternoon, shortly before 3 p.m., the doors open into a large, gymnasium-sized lobby. Exactly two people can be seen: the woman at the cash register printing visitors’ tickets and a colleague next to her scanning them. Visitors are asked to put their handbags into one of the lockers that covered an entire wall. All but one are available.

On the museum’s main floor, historical clothing is displayed in glass vitrines – fashion, textiles, things that are actually quite interesting. Currently, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is running an exhibition of eccentric dresses designed by the late Alexander McQueen. The show is completely sold out, but would-be visitors still have a chance each morning to get their hands on one of 200 tickets being offered at 10 a.m. Other museums like the British Museum in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam or the Louvre in Paris, attract huge crowds even on a Tuesday afternoon. In those cities, viewing art is a communal experience. At times, the museums even feel too full.

Eerily Empty

But at the Berlin Museum of Decorative Arts, enjoying art seems to mean subjecting visitors to long, dark corridors that are eerily empty. Walking around corners can be a startling experience for all parties involved.

The building is part of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which also runs all the museums at the Kulturforum as well as the five temple-like structures on Berlin’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Museum Island. Counting the Berggruen Museum in western Berlin, with its large collection of Picassos, the foundation has 20 different locations in the city and incredible collections at its disposal. It boasts millions of artifacts from around the world that show huge swaths of human history. That fact, plus the large number of international artists who have made Berlin their home and the sheer number of galleries, may explain why the German capital city has come to be known as a metropolis of art.

That reputation, however, is a misconception. The city is undeniably home to diverse, valuable and unique museum collections, but they aren’t helping the city as much as they should be.

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