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Berlin museum set to reopen

October 17, 2006|Geir Moulson | Associated Press

BERLIN — Berlin's famed Museum Island complex moves a big step closer to recovering its former glory this week when the Bode Museum, home to the city's sculpture collection, reopens after six years of restoration.

The domed building, which juts out into the Spree River in the heart of former East Berlin, is the second of the five Neoclassical museums to get a full makeover as part of a government-funded $1.5-billion overhaul.

It houses about 1,700 sculptures, along with Berlin's Museum of Byzantine Art and Numismatic Collection. The museum will reopen to visitors on Thursday, after a ceremony today.

Visitors can expect "an overview of the history of European sculpture from late antiquity, around [AD] 300, to about 1800," said Arne Effenberger, the sculpture collection's director.

The collection includes medieval works such as Giovanni Pisano's "Man of Sorrows" and Presbyter Martinus' "Madonna," and Renaissance pieces such as Donatello's "Pazzi Madonna" to German sculpture of the 18th century.

Effenberger said in an interview that visitors also would see about 150 paintings from the city's Gemaeldegalerie museum, illustrating "aspects of the mentality of a particular era in art history" that are common to painting and sculpture.

The Byzantine collection features works from the 3rd to the 15th centuries, including Roman sarcophagi, ivory carvings and mosaic icons.

Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said the $230-million restoration of the Bode Museum and its spacious rooms allowed Berlin to show off "another jewel in Germany's treasure chamber."

"Once the reconstruction of the whole Museum Island is complete, this exceptional ensemble will recover its unique attraction and will belong to the world's most outstanding museums, alongside the Prado in Madrid or the Louvre in Paris," Neumann said in a statement.

The mammoth project is expected to continue until 2015 or later.

The five museums, at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, suffered severe damage during World War II and were only partly restored by communist East Germany.

In parts of the complex, restorers face crumbling interiors and facades still pockmarked by bullet holes from the war.

The renovation project started with the Alte Nationalgalerie, which houses a collection of 19th century art and was reopened in 2001.

Among those still awaiting restoration is the most famous of the five, the Pergamon Museum, which is home to treasures such as the Pergamon Altar and Babylon's Ishtar Gate.

The museums attract about 4 million visitors annually. City museum officials say they hope to increase that to as many as 6 million over the coming years.

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