As railways expanded across Europe in the 19th century expansion, the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin was built to designs of Friedrich Neuhaus in 1846/47 as the terminus of the Berlin-Hamburg railway. Today it remains one of the oldest railway terminus buildings in Germany and, like the Musee d’Orsey in Paris, has been given a new use as a modern art museum, the Museum für Gegenwart, part of the Berlin National Gallery.
The station fell out of use in 1884 when northbound long distance trains from Berlin began leaving from Lehrter Bahnhof (now Berlin Hauptbahnhof) and in 1906 it became home to the new Royal Museum of Building and Transport which moved to the new Museum of Technology after the second World War and, from 1987, the empty halls were used for temporary exhibitions.
In the mid-1980s the Berlin entrepreneur Erich Marx offered his private collection of contemporary art to the city and it was agreed to establish a museum of contemporary art in the former railway station as part of the National Gallery. The architect Josef Paul Kleihues won the architectural competition for redesign of the station and the new museum opened in November 1996 with an exhibition of works by Sigmar Polke.
The Museum für Gegenwart exhibits modern and contemporary art in the large spaces of the former terminus with a mixture of permanent loans from the Marx collection and temporary exhibitions housed in the main building and a long industrial wing running down beyond the main space. One of the particular strengths of the Museum is film, video and digital art.
Current exhibitions include “Capital – Debt, Territory, Utopia”, solo shows of work by Carl Andre, Joseph Beuys and Gulsun Karamustafa and an exhibition of “The Black Years” – a history of the German national art collection from 1933 to 1945 when art and artists were subject to censorship and their work removed from the national collections to be sold or destroyed. Some has since been bought back; some has disappeared completely.
An excellent modern art museum which shows the flexibility of the large volume spaces in the former railway terminus buildings.