The Kulturforum, literally “culture-forum”, is an umbrella term that covers several art museums and cultural venues in the southeast corner of the Tiergarten park, which could easily fill a day of your time.
Many of the Kulturforum buildings were designed in the 1960s by Hans Scharoun, including the honey-coloured Philharmonie, home of the Berlin Philharmonic, with its complicated floor-plan and top-notch acoustics and views, regardless of your seat. Daily tours explore the interior of the building.
Over the road from the Philharmonie, the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Applied Arts) holds an encyclopedic but seldom dull collection of European arts and crafts from the Middle Ages on. Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo pieces (wonderful silver and ceramics), along with Jugendstil, Art Deco and Bauhaus objects are all present, as are sumptuous pieces from the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance collections. Highlights are Lüneburg’s municipal silver and an eighth-century purse-shaped reliquary that belonged to Duke Widikund, leader of the Saxon resistance to Charlemagne.
With its stupendous collection of early European paintings, the Gemäldegalerie (Picture Gallery) is the real jewel of the Kulturforum. Highlights include German work from the Middle Ages and Renaissance such as the large Wurzach Altar of 1437, from the workshop of the great Ulm sculptor Hans Multscher; landscapes by Albrecht Altdorfer; and several superbly observed portraits by Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein the Younger. The gallery’s Netherlandish section includes fifteenth- and sixteenth-century works by Jan van Eyck, Jan Gossaert, Quentin Massys and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, whose Netherlandish Proverbs is an amusing, if opaque, illustration of over a hundred sixteenth-century proverbs.
The later Dutch and Flemish collections, with their large portraits of Van Dyck and fleshy canvases of Rubens, are another strong point. But the major highlights are several paintings by Rembrandt: though The Man in the Golden Helmet has been proved to be the work of his studio rather than the artist himself, this does little to detract from the portrait’s elegance and power. Finally, the Italian section spanning the Renaissance to the eighteenth century, has impressive paintings by Botticelli, Caravaggio, Poussin, Claude and Canaletto.
Sharing its main entrance with the Gemäldegalerie, the Kupferstichkabinett (Engraving Cabinet) holds an extensive collection of European medieval and Renaissance prints, drawings and engravings. The collection includes Botticelli’s exquisite drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy.
The Neue Nationalgalerie
At the southeast corner of the Kulturforum, and by far its finest building, is the Neue Nationalgalerie. Designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1965, the building comprises a severe glass box, its ceiling seemingly almost suspended above the ground. The gallery divides between the permanent collection, featuring works from the beginning of the twentieth century onwards, including pieces by Braque, Gris and Picasso, and temporary exhibits, often of contemporary art.