History, Art and Culture at Berlin's Museums
Standing on an island in the Dahme River of the Köpenick district of Berlin, Schloss Köpenick was built as a hunting lodge by order of Elector Joachim II Hector of Brandenburg in 1558. After he died in 1571, the lodge was occupied by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, brother-in-law of Elector George William of Brandenburg. The Renaissance style castle was rebuilt and extended by Frederick I of Prussia who lived there with his first wilfe Elizabeth Henrietta of Hesse Kassel. Today the building serves as the home of the Museum of Decorative Arts, overseen by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.
The Museum of Decorative Arts (Kunstgewerbemuseum) boasts European and Byzantine works of art made from gold, silver, glass, porcelain and enamel, as well as furniture, tapestry, paneling, costumes and silks. The collection includes gold reliquaries encrusted with precious stones. Also referred to as shrines, reliquaries are containers for relics such as physical remains of saints, pieces of clothing or other items associated with religious figures. Items from the Renaissance era include silverware, sculptures, furniture and Venetian glass from Lüneburg's city councilors, while the Baroque era collection includes glass items and faiences (glazed pottery and earthenware) from Delft. More recent items at the museum include decorative crockery from the rococo, historicist and Art Nouveau styles, as well as 20th century craftwork and industrially-manufactured products.
The Kunstgewerbemuseum is also home to a fragment of the Cloth of St Gereon - the oldest European tapestry, dating back to the 11th century. The cloth, which features a repeat pattern of a bull being attacked by a griffin, was cut into fragments in the 19th century and today a number of museums in Europe display sections of the original tapestry. Named for the St Gereon's Basilica in Cologne, it used to hang in the choir area of the church. German art historian Dr. Franz Bock cut the tapestry into four pieces and sold them to four European museums around 1875 – with the Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin being one of them.
Other museums in Berlin that visitors may want to explore include the Kunstbibliothek (Art Library); Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery); Museum Scharf-Gerstenberg; Ehtnological Museum of Berlin; Museum of Asian Art; and the five museums on Museum Island – Altes Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, Bode-Museum, Neues Museum and Pergamon Museum.