British star architect David Chipperfield unveiled Berlin's New Museum Thursday after a more than decade-long restoration to repair bomb damage dating from World War II.
The German government spent 200 million euros (251 million dollars) returning the neoclassical building, which was erected on the city's renowned Museum Island in 1847, to its former glory.
"After 11 years, I'm a little reluctant to hand over the keys today," joked Chipperfield, who won a competition to restore the building in 1997.
The New Museum is the fourth of five institutions to be completed on Museum Island, and authorities hope that the renovated complex and UNESCO World Heritage Site will be able to rival Paris' Louvre when completed.
"The opening marks an important day for the Museum Island but also for Berlin and the whole of the Federal Republic," Hermann Parzinger, head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation which manages regional museums, told reporters.
Museum Island is located in the former communist east of the city and the restorations did not begin in earnest until the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago. In that time, the capital has reshuffled its most prominent collections.
The New Museum, which will open to the public in October, will house the archaeological collections of the capital's Egyptian Museum including the 3,400-year-old Egyptian bust of Nefertiti, which will have its own hall.
The institution, which got its name because it was built shortly after the city's Old Museum, is roughly rectangular, with high ceilings creating a light and airy atmosphere.
One of the building's focal points is a grand staircase, which leads to the top floors and is a lasting monument to its first architect, Friedrich August Stueler.
"The architecture is special because it is subtle enough not to cast a shadow over the historical artefacts exhibited," Joerg Haspel, from Berlin's department for the preservation of historical monuments, explained.
Chipperfield said the project had a "strange chronology" because the project had required him to work with material that had largely remained untouched for 60 years.
The architect, who has offices in London, Berlin and Milan, also said that he had tried to "capture the damage of war and the 60 years following."
According to local media reports, Berlin city authorities hope the completed Museum Island project will attract up to four million visitors a year.
Chipperfield said he saw his job as trying to combine the new and the old into a new whole, whose modern elements were not allowed to "steal the show" from the 19th century original.
"The dominant idea was to hold on to the original material, the remnants from the war damage and the 60 years following," he said. "The real bricks and plaster, the surfaces, the rooms, the real fundament of what survived - that's what we wanted to hold."
The result is a building in which every surface and detail has been considered, in which traces of old colour and raw brick are combined with slim pillars and glass roofs that seem to defy the laws of physics.
He incorporated original elements of the war-damaged building such as plinths, frescoes and pedestals that survived bombing, artillery fire and decades of wind and rain, with modern features including handmade bricks, concrete, white cement mixed with marble chips, and opaque glass. He said the work had been "incredibly complex", and "intellectual and emotional".
The Neues Museum's most elegant feature is Chipperfield's central staircase, a sweeping marble and concrete form that hints at the burnt-out original but is stripped bare of its ornamentation.
The public now has three days to enjoy the empty shell of the new building before it is closed again to allow the exhibits - which were last on display in the museum 70 years ago before being evacuated at the start of the war - to be replaced.
Museum Island (German: Museumsinsel) in Berlin, Germany is the name of the northern half of the Spreeinsel, an island in the Spree river in the centre of the city (the southern half of the island is called Fischerinsel (Fishers' Island)).
The island received its name for several internationally renowned museums that now occupy all of the island's northern half (originally a residential area dedicated to "art and science" by King Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1841). Constructed under several Prussian kings, their collections of art and archeology were turned into a public foundation after 1918, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation), which maintains the collections and museums today.
The Prussian collections became separated during the Cold War during the division of the city, but were reunited after German reunification except for the art and artefacts stolen after World War II by Allied troops and not yet returned; these include the Priam's Treasure, also called the gold of Troy, excavated by Heinrich Schliemann in 1873, then smuggled out of Turkey to Berlin.
Presently, the Museumsinsel and the collections are in the process of being reorganized. Since several buildings were destroyed in World War II and some of the exhibition space is in the process of being reconstructed, the information below is in a state of flux.
The oldest museum on the island is the aptly-named Old Museum (Altes Museum). It was completed on the orders of Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1830. In 1859, the New Museum (Neues Museum) was finished, this time according to plans by Friedrich August Stüler, a student of Schinkel. It was completed in 1859.
The Old National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie) was completed in 1876, also according to designs by Friedrich August Stüler, to host a collection of 19th century art donated by banker Joachim H. W. Wagener. In 1904 the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, today called the Bode Museum, was opened. It exhibits the sculpture collections and late Antique and Byzantine art.
The final museum of the complex was constructed in 1930, it was the Pergamon Museum, . The museum contains multiple reconstructed immense and historically significant buildings such as the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. In 1999, the museum complex was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.