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Nefertiti Gets a New Palace: Revamped Neues Museum Finally Opens in Berlin

For seven decades Berlin's Neues Museum was a derelict, bomb-scarred shell -- but finally it is back, boasting a star-studded cast including the 3,400-year-old bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti. German Chancellor Angela Merkel officially opens the restored museum on Friday.

It's a day that took decades to arrive. One of the jewels of Berlin's Museum Island complex will reopen its doors. The Neues Museum reopens on Friday, meaning that the entire ensemble of Berlin's neoclassical galleries will be open for the first time since World War II.

"It is a special day ... 70 years after it was closed, this building can be handed over to the public again," Hermann Parzinger, the head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees Berlin's museums, told journalists ahead of the opening of the galleries, which will hold the city's Egyptian Museum and the Museum of Pre- and Early History. "It is, in a way, the end of the postwar era for the Museum Island."

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Photo Gallery: Berlin's Neues Museum Is Back

The star of the show will be the limestone-and-stucco bust of Nefertiti, which has been in Germany since 1913. Reflecting her status in the world of art history, the beautiful object will reside alone in a dome-ceilinged room which overlooks the length of the museum.

The museum has been closed since the beginning of the war in 1939, when its artifacts were taken into storage. Situated in the former East Germany, it was left in its war-torn state due to lack of funds. Nefertiti and thousands of other items have now been returned to their former home for the first time.

Alongside the historic artifacts, the space also houses a stretch of barbed wire from the Berlin Wall, a timely addition given next month's 20-year anniversary of the fall of the east-west divide.

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.

The high-profile opening has also reignited an ongoing row about the museum's centerpiece, with Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass telling a number of German newspapers that Nefertiti belongs to his country. Speaking to the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, Hawass said an official investigation had been launched into how Nefertiti came to Germany. "If she left Egypt illegally, which I am convinced she did, then I will officially demand it back from Germany," he told the daily.

At the press conference ahead of the opening, Parzinger said any relevant documents would be given to the Egyptian authorities. He stressed he was "confident" Nefertiti's place in Berlin was secure.

This weekend Nefertiti's steely gaze will be the major draw for Berliners who are expected to flock to the public opening. The Neues Museum will be free for visitors on Saturday and Sunday. Organizers are braced for a mass turnout, providing hot drinks for the thousands expected to stand in line, despite the forecast of rain.

jas -- with wire reports


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Berlin's Museum Island
Bode Museum
The Bode Museum, designed by Ernst von Ihne, first opened its doors in 1904, only to be heavily damaged during World War II. The East German authorities reconstructed the building and reopened it, but it was only after the fall of the Berlin Wall that far-reaching renovations got under way. It was finally reopened in 2006 following almost a decade of renovation. The Bode Museum houses the world's largest collection of sculptures dating from the Early Middle Ages to the late 18th century. In addition, it is home to the finest collection of Byzantine art in Germany with a heavy emphasis on art from the ancient Mediterranean.
Pergamon Museum
The museum takes its name from the imposing Pergamon Altar, which was brought to Berlin in the late 19th century from Greek ruins found on the West coast of present-day Turkey. Built between 1910 and 1930, the museum is currently undergoing renovations, but will nonetheless remain open. In addition to the Pergamon Altar, it also is home to the Ishtar Gate and the Market Gate of Miletus. The building houses Berlin's Collection of Classical Antiquities, the Museum of the Ancient Near East and the Museum of Islamic Art.
Old National Gallery
Work on the Alte Nationalgalerie began in 1866 according to a design by Friedrich August Stüler and was opened in 1876. It was heavily damaged during World War II with the interior exposed to the elements for years. Only in 1950 did it reopen. It underwent an extensive renovation from 1998 to 2001, when it reopened. The building houses an extensive collection from the classic and romantic periods in addition to French Impressionist and early modern works. The museum boasts works by Caspar David Friedrich, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cezanne, among others.
Neues (New) Museum
The Neues Museum was built between 1843 and 1855 and, like the Old National Gallery, was designed by Friedrich August Stüler. It is one of the best examples of neo-classical architecture in Germany. The museum, however, suffered heavily during World War II, losing much of its interior elements to Munich museums and was left as a ruin until 1986. Following extensive reconstruction efforts, the museum finally reopened its doors again on Oct. 16, 2009. In addition to housing the famous bust of Nefertiti, it also plays host to the Egyptian Museum and the papyrus collection, among other collections.
Altes (Old) Museum
The Altes Musum was build between 1823 and 1830 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and is, like the Neues Museum, one of Germany's most important neo-classical structures, recalling as it does the Pantheon in Rome. The building was damaged during World War II, but reopened its doors in 1966. It was originally built to house all of Berlin's art collections, but soon proved too small for such duties. It has housed Berlin's collection of classical antiquities since 1904. It also provided a temporary home to the Egyptian Museum, which has now moved to the Neues Museum.

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