Berlin's Neues Museum
, boasting ancient treasures such as a famous bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti and a magnificent Bronze Age golden hat, is finally reopening to the public after standing for decades as a bomb-damaged shell.
The museum is being inaugurated Friday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and opens its doors to the public Saturday. That will mark the first time since World War II that the whole of Berlin's neoclassical Museum Island complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been open.
"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, said Thursday. "It is, in a way, the end of the postwar era for the Museum Island."
The museum's best-known exhibit is the limestone-and-stucco bust of Nefertiti, which dates back to about 1340 B.C.. The graceful, delicately detailed piece was found by German archeologists in 1912 and went on display at the Neues Museum in 1924.
Back at her old home, Nefertiti is the lone centerpiece of a domed corner room facing down the whole length of the museum to a Roman-era marble statue of the sun god Helios, also from Egypt.
Also given pride of place is the "Berlin golden hat," a tall, conical artifact made of hammered gold and decorated with astronomic symbols including the moon. It dates back to about 1000 B.C. and may have been used as the ceremonial hat of a high priest or ruler.
The Neues Museum, designed by Prussian architect Friedrich August Stueler, first opened to the public in 1855.
Stueler worked "to bring art collections with differing directions and from different origins together here in such a way that it was possible to take a walk through the earliest cultures of humanity," Berlin museums director Michael Eissenhauer said.
The restored Neues Museum reflects that approach, bringing together Berlin's Egyptian collection with its artifacts from the prehistoric and later eras, along with some of the city's classical antiquities.
The museum shut at the beginning of the war in 1939, and the contents were put into storage. Major bomb damage went largely unrepaired by cash-strapped East Germany, and it has taken until now for the exhibits to return.
British architect David Chipperfield's euro200 million ($298 million) restoration, completed in March, incorporates original material that survived wartime bombing and decades of exposure to the weather.
A faux-Egyptian painted ceiling hangs over a room dedicated to the history of Egyptology, while monumental sarcophagi are exhibited below 19th-century murals depicting scenes from the Nile Valley.
The museum "is a palace for things marked by history that itself is marked by history," said Matthias Wemhoff, who is in charge of the prehistoric collection.
Admission to the Neues Museum will be free this Saturday and Sunday. Starting Monday, tickets with a specific time slot will cost euro10.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.