The Gemaldegalerie (Picture Gallery) is one of Europe’s best-kept art secrets. Here in downtown Berlin near the Potsdamer Platz, inside a very modern structure, resides one of the finest collections of European paintings from before 1800. There are a thousand paintings on display and hardly ever a line to enter the place. Stroll through the 10-year old building, which is divided into a long series of stately galleries, and gaze at a fabulous collection that includes Rembrandt, Vermeer, Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens, Gainsborough, and Brueghel. It is not hard to spend an afternoon here, for the gallery space is quite extensive. It would be nearly impossible to take everything in all at once, so try concentrating on one particular style and time period.
Even with this approach the choices will be many. There are the German masters such as Konrad Witz, Albrecht Dürer, Baldung Grien, Cranach and Holbein. The Italians and Dutch are also well represented with a treasured cache of paintings before 1700. A special room is set aside for the museum’s first-rate collection of Rembrandts. Many art lovers consider these paintings to be the centerpiece of the institution.
Also the visitor will find special galleries set aside for Italian, French, German and English painting of the 18th century. Overall there are 72 rooms displaying works of art, and if you should choose to walk completely through each chamber, you will have walked for two kilometers. The viewing rooms are very spacious with high ceilings that allow for plenty of space to view each individual painting, no matter how large it is. Most visitors will opt for a certain part of the collection or even a particular painting or two. Over the course of several visits, you could learn quite a lot about Renaissance and Late Gothic painting.
The Gemaldegalerie is part of the Kulturforum Potsdamer Platz, a group of newly-built art museums and performance halls, located adjacent to the actual Potsdamer Platz. Here in the spacious downtown arts district, one will find the Art Center for European Painting (Museen der Europaischen Kunst), the Philharmonic Hall (Philharmonie), the Chamber Music Hall (Kammermusiksaal), the New National Gallery (Neue Nationalgalerie), the Museum for Decorative Arts (Kunstgewerbemuseum) and the State Library (Neue Staatsbibliothek).
Within the complex of buildings referred to as the Museen der Europaischen Kunst there is located the Gemaldegalerie (Picture Gallery), the Museum of Graphic Arts (Kupferstichkabinett) and the Art Library (Kunstbibliothek).
Plans were being made for the Gemaldegalerie as far back as 1960, but the actual building was not completed until 1998. However, the collection that is displayed within the Gemaldegalerie dates all the way back to the days of Frederick the Great. This awesome group of paintings was housed and exhibited in Berlin up until the second World War. Potsdamer Platz and the vicinity were practically razed to the ground by Allied bombers during the war, but not before the paintings were safely hidden in underground shelters.
After the war plans were made to rebuild an art venue for the collection, but because the Berlin Wall ran right through the middle of the square, this did not happen till after the wall came down. Once the wall was down, Potsdamer Platz became the center of major new construction, which consisted of state of the art high rise hotels and skyscrapers.
Just next door the Kulturforum was added including the Gemaldegalerie and all the above-mentioned buildings. The art museums and performance halls are a well-deserved addition to the city, filling a void in the arts that has existed in Berlin ever since the bombing began back during the war. It seems so strange to view such an extensive collection of Renaissance art in a modern high-tech structure, but the pleasure of knowing the collection is again available to the public eye is a reassuring thought.
The Gemalegalerie is a great stop for anyone, who is visiting this fast-growing metropolis. If you are lucky you might catch a blockbuster of a show, like the Rembrandt exhibition that was up in the fall of 2006. To celebrate the Old Master’s 400th birthday there was an exhibition displayed here, which consisted of more than 80 of his paintings. You just never know what you might come across, while visiting a foreign city.