After a lengthy reconstruction by architect Josef Paul Kleihues, the Hamburger Bahnhof reopened on 2 November 1996 as the "Museum für Gegenwart" (Museum for Contemporary Art). The building was erected in the mid-19th century as one of the first terminal stations of the rail system. In the early 20th century, the structure was converted into a museum of transport and construction. The station's architecture, its impressive Neoclassical façade, flanked by two towers, the grand industrial hall of the entrance area, and the wings of the cours d'honneur flanking the garden of the inner courtyard: all of these elements constitute special attractions for visitors to Berlin. Only the east wing, the so-called Kleihues Hall, was reconstructed in the style of a high vaulted grand gallery on the occasion of the 1996 reopening.
Impressive from without by virtue of the façade's lucid historicist style, the building is rendered even more striking by an ingenious dichromatic installation, designed by American artist Dan Flavin, which bathes both the main façade loggia and the transitions leading to the wings of the cours d'honneur in blue and green neon light. Particularly at night, Flavin's last work (whose completion he unfortunately did not live to see) is visible from afar, and has come to be seen as the museum's trademark.
The Hamburger Bahnhof is the third location of Berlin's Nationalgalerie. The name, "Museum für Gegenwart" invokes the museum's former Department of Contemporary Art, which opened at the Kronprinzen Palais on Unter den Linden in 1919 and was shut down by the Nazis in 1937. Established by Nationalgalerie director Ludwig Justi in the aftermath of the fall of the German monarchy, the "Museum der Gegenwart" was one of the first state museums devoted to "living art."
In this progressive spirit, it was decided that the new museum's collection would focus on art since 1960. The original impetus for the elaborate redesign and restoration was the acquisition of the Erich Marx collection, whose permanent home would henceforth be the Hamburger Bahnhof. Its premiere presentation in 1996 in a splendid selection of works by Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly eloquently pointed up the museum's program.
These pioneering artists, who transgressed the boundaries separating traditional art forms, were the point of departure, soon to be joined by additional pivotal figures, and the museum's exhibitions and programs have consistently focused on the interdisciplinary character of contemporary art. In the context of this expanded conception of art, the Nationalgalerie collection is distinguished in particular by its holdings of artists' rooms, including ones by John Cage, Bill Viola, Peter Campus, Wolf Vostell, Rebecca Horn, Carolee Schneeman, Reinhard Mucha, Marcel Broodthaers, Fritz Rahmann, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Johan Grimonprez and Aernout Mik. In 2002, the collection was enlarged significantly by the acquisition of Egidio Marzona's study collection of Conceptual Art and Arte Povera. Among recent acquisitions, filmic works represent an additional focus for the Nationalgalerie, a sphere of activity reinforced further by the arrival of the Joseph Beuys Media Archive and by Mike Steiner's donation of a collection of 1970s video art, as well as by purchases of films by artists such as Marcel Broodthaers, David Lamelas and Matthew Buckingham
In 2004, the museum was expanded by an additional 6000 m2, and now has a total exhibition surface of 13,000 m2. The former Lehrter Bahnhof, set behind the main building, was converted to become the so-called Rieckhallen, and now provides exhibition space for the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection. The museum is currently publishing this collection of over 1500 superlative works of contemporary European and North American art in changing thematic and monographic presentations such as "The Friedrich Christian Flick Collection in Hamburger Bahnhof" (2004), "Urs Fisher," "Fast nichts: Minimal Artworks from the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection" (2005), "Richard Jackson," "Beyond Cinema" (2006) and "Roman Signer" (2007).
Hamburger Bahnhof: Das Empfangsgebäude des Berlin-Hamburg-Bahn mit der Personenhalle von hinten (Architekt Neuhaus) © Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz
Hamburger Bahnhof, Foto: Hans W. Mende © Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz
Blick auf den Hamburger Bahnhof © Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz
Blick in die Ausstellungshalle des Verkehrs- und Baumuseums im Gebäude des ehemaligen Hamburger Bahnhofs © Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz