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Mitte, Berlin

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Germany's insider take:

At the height of Cold War tensions, the name of this neighborhood, Mitte (Middle), seemed anachronistic. Once the heart of prewar Berlin, Mitte, subsumed into East Germany, was pressed up against the Wall and marred by concrete and barbed wire. The Prussian-era Baroque and classical buildings lining the once fashionable Unter den Linden, an aristocratic boulevard leading to the iconic Brandenburg Gate, fell into disrepair, and Socialist Realist monstrosities like Alexanderplatz and the now dismantled Palace of the Republic, the Communist government's headquarters, cast a long shadow. Today, Mitte is once again Berlin's cultural and commercial heart, and it's the best place to take in the city's (sometimes uneasy) mix of old and new. The buildings along Unter den Linden have been fully restored; galleries and independent boutiques have moved into the Scheunenviertel, the turn-of-the-century Jewish quarter that's now a creative enclave; and international labels (Gucci, Escada) have established themselves down the street from Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse, now one of Berlin's most stylish shopping destinations.

The Museumsinsel, or Museum Island, is a massive complex of five world-class museums in Mitte whose imposing neoclassical buildings—most of them designed by the great Prussian architects Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Friedrich August Stüler—are gradually undergoing refurbishment. With the reopening of the Neues Museum in October 2009, all five museums are once again open to visitors. The Neues Museum includes works from ancient Egypt, such as the famous bust of Nefertiti, as well as pre- and early-history collections. Classical antiquities, including an impressive Etruscan collection, can be found in the Altes Museum; Byzantine art, sculptures, and one of the world's largest numismatic collections are housed in the Bode-Museum. The Alte Nationalgalerie contains work by 19th-century artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, Adolph Menzel, and the French Impressionists. But the island's biggest spectacle is the Pergamonmuseum, whose trove of important ancient architecture includes the Hellenistic Pergamon Altar and the bright blue Ishtar Gate from Babylon.

Each of the five museums maintains separate opening hours and admission fees. More information is available on the Web site of the Berlin State Museums or by calling 49-30-266-42-4242. The master plan for reconstructing the Museumsinsel calls for its completion in 2015.

Altes Museum, Bode-Museum, and Pergamonmuseum open Fridays through Wednesdays 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays 10 am to 10 pm.

Alte Nationalgalerie open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays through Sundays 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays 10 am to 10 pm.

Neues Museum open Sundays through Wednesdays 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays through Saturdays 10 am to 8 pm.

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