In October 2019, the Neues Museum will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its re-opening. Originally opened in the mid-nineteenth century, and the second institution to do so on the Museuminsel Berlin, at that time it showcased the global history of human culture from prehistory to the nineteenth century. The building, which was badly damaged during the Second World War, was then left in ruins for decades. Following a decade-long reconstruction based on the designs of British architect David Chipperfield, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin moved the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung and the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte to the premises, with additional objects from the Antikensammlung.
The rebuilding of the museum allowed the severely damaged structures of the staircase of the Neues Museum to be reconstructed as they were originally designed. In keeping with the restoration plan of ensuring that the history of the building remain visible, a deliberate decision was made not to reconstruct the original murals. To mark the anniversary of the reopening, the original condition of the staircase has been digitally reconstructed. Using virtual reality, it is now possible to combine the outstanding reconstruction by David Chipperfield with a spatial experience of the historical architecture, making the original design concept, the history of the building and its re-conception tangible for visitors.
As the central space of the museum, the staircase plays a key role in the conception and interior design of the building. During the construction of the Neues Museum in the mid-19th century, the imagery of the murals was discussed in detail with the King of Prussia, Frederick William IV, the Director-General Ignaz von Olfers and the artist Wilhelm von Kaulbach. The depiction of the evolution of cultural history on the walls of the staircase reflected the conception of the museum as a custodian of culture, but also the worldview of the time. The main paintings in the cycle were Kaulbach’s six monumental pictures, each approximately 6 x 7 metres in size. The cycle begins with the construction of the Tower of Babel as a symbol of the genesis of the world’s various cultures, and ends with a depiction of the Reformation as a representation of recent history.
The condition of the staircase in around 1920 is reconstructed in two 360° films, which also elucidate Kaulbach’s cycle of paintings. Museum-goers are able to take a seat on the benches in the room and, using their VR goggles, see the pictures visualised on the opposite wall. Before and after watching the thematic films, visitors have time to look around the virtually reconstructed space and explore the original condition of the staircase.
With this virtual visualisation, visitors are able to gain a new understanding of the building, without the need to alter the structural material of the building or the design of the architecture. In this way, 10 years after the opening, these new tools have created a chance to gather together the different points of view on how to best approach the reconstruction of the murals, which was a hotly debated topic in the lead-up to the opening.