There are several cities in Germany with museum islands, but none are as expansive as Berlin’s, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Altes Museum covers Greek and other antiquities; the Neues Museum has the bust of Nefertiti and other Egypt-related artifacts; the Alte Nationalgalerie contains Western art from roughly 1850-1950; the Bode covers sculpture and Byzantine art and the Pergamon antiquity, the Middle East and Islamic art.
Wallraf-Richartz Museum – Cologne
Small, but perfectly formed, the Wallraf Museum in Cologne is an antidote to hit and miss contemporary galleries or endurance-testing leviathans typical of most city centres. It’s about 5 minutes walk from the Cologne Cathedral, contains an excellent cafe and is kitty corner to the Farina Fragrance Museum.
The Neues Museum Staatliches Museum für Kunst und Design is a mouthful, but there’s no doubt what you’ll find there. (Hint: it’s contemporary art and design). Opened in 2000, the galleries are laid out in a spiral, like a snail shell. A fine collection of work by German painter Gerhard Richter is especially worthwhile, as is the sculpture garden.
The Museum of Urban and Contemporary Art is Germany’s first museum of urban art. Founded in 2016 by collector Christian Utz, MUCA focuses on artists like Shepard Fairey, Herakut, Andy Warhol and Banksy, as well as emerging artists.
The other side of the city from Museum Island, the Gemäldegalerie is a painting paradise. Holbein, Titian, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rubens, Rembrandt and shed loads of others you didn’t even know you loved: they’re all carefully, and, according to the museum, scientifically hung over 72 rooms. The pieces in the Gemäldegalerie are unusual in Europe because the collection was started by the government, not an aristocrat. From its inception in 1815, the collection was meant to reflect the full breadth of European art.
Bucerius Kunst Forum
The guiding principle of the Bucerius Kunst Forum is to present art in new contexts. For example a recent exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s work highlighted connections between European and Mexican art. The museum is small – there is only room for 100 exhibits at a time – so it can afford to be very precise in its programming choices. The Kunst Forum frequently borrows from other museums to complete the show, so who knows what will turn up at your next visit.
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
When the Electors Saxony weren’t busy ordering bakers to make 1.8 ton Christmas cakes, they were collecting art. These days, the Elector is no longer but the art lives on in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister. Well, most of it. During the war, the collection was stored elsewhere and then confiscated by the Russians. 450 paintings are still missing, but the jewel in the Alte Meister crown, Raphael’s Sistine Madonna returned home safely.
art is just a four letter word
Fifty km northeast of Dortmund, in the heart of Germany’s former industrial heartland, the ad agency art is just a four letter word maintains a gallery focused on street art and graffiti that has amassed an international following. Artists like Rookie the Weird, Jan Kalab, Bates and Adele Renault are all featured.
The 200 year old Städel Museum, officially Die Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, has 2,700 paintings, 100,000 drawings, 600 sculptures and 100,000 books, making it the perfect respite from a rainy day in Frankfurt. During the war, all the art was moved to Bavaria for safekeeping and only discovered after the fact by one of the Monuments Men.
Max Ernst Museum – Brühl
If Surrealism brings only Dali to mind, then get acquainted with the German painter who got there first. Max Ernst developed a love of defying authority as the child of a strict, Catholic father. Later in life, he sold many of his paintings to one collector in order to fund a move to Saigon with his lover and her husband. In addition to the Ernst collection, the museum has regular exhibitions of modern artist like M.C. Escher, Man Ray or Tim Burton.