About a year ago nearly 1.2 million visitors flocked to the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin to see an exhibition of highlights from the collection of the MoMA. After the show the Neue Nationalgalerie had to replace the carpet, which had been worn out by the visitors. Now the Neue Nationalgalerie exhibits not only its new carpet but also some of its own treasures and some selected works from the Marx, Van de Loo and Flick collections. There's much to see and enjoy, besides the new carpet, but it appears that the people of Berlin can't be bothered. When I was there I could count the number of visitors on the fingers of, well, four hands.

The exhibition is called Gegenwelten or Counter-Worlds. The title can be read as a response to the MoMA show and its version of the history of modern art. The exhibition has been divided into thematic chapters with titles such as "The Twilight of the Future", "New Paradises/World Theater", "Internal Worlds - External Worlds", "After Images" and "History and Reality". I'm not a big fan of this kind of narrative, because it either risks forcing individual works and artists into a framework as rigid as a historical presentation or ends up being superfluous when the story being told is unclear. In the case of Gegenwelten I just ignored the whole categorization and enjoyed the works on show happily passing over those I don't care for.

The central axis of the exhibition is formed by Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol and Anselm Kiefer, each of whom is honored with a room of his own. It is a pleasure to see Warhol's "Ten foot flower" (1967), "Double Elvis" (1963), "DIY Seascape" (1962) and "Big Electric Chair" (1967) in reality again, they're much bigger than the reproductions. Also on show is a work I didn't know, "Knives" (1981/82), which I found quite striking. Against a white background it shows six knives their blades ending in one point. However, within the exhibition's context it is difficult to see how other developments converge in his work or how he casts a shadow over much contemporary art. Yes, Warhol is a pivotal artist, but the exhibition does not show why. To that end work by someone like Jeff Koons should have been included.

It is a matter of contention whether Anselm Kiefer is a central figure in 20th century art. I would consider him more of an outsider. The exhibition design actually emphasizes this. His work is in a room that is more or less closed off from the rest of the exhibition. Still, his place in the show does draw attention to the fact that art is rooted in a geographical context and not just a commodity that belongs to the virtual realm of the global art market. As such Kiefer is a counterpoint to Warhol, although it could be argued that Warhol's work is quintessentially American.

As befits a German exhibition the center space is devoted to Joseph Beuys. Upon entering the Neue Nationalgalerie you can already hear his voice ranting in the background. "Ja, ja, ja, ja, ja... Nee, nee, nee, nee, nee... Ja, ja, ja, ja, ja." It is a record of one of the seminars Beuys gave as part of an exhibition of his work in London in the early 70s. Piled on the floor are the blackboards on which Beuys has scribbled all kinds of formulas and statements. It made me wonder whether curators re-draw the chalk lines or whether they just let them fade. The voice track is truly hilarious and probably the best lecture any artist has ever given. It goes on for an hour or so and I don't envy the room guards.

There are many great works in the exhibition. There's Barnett Newman's "Who's Afraid of Red Yellow and Blue IV" (1969/70), which, in my opinion, doesn't get the space it deserves, since you cannot walk backwards far enough. There's work by Edvard Munch, Oskar Kokoschka, Otto Dix, Frank Stella, Sol Lewitt, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. There are some great works by Max Beckmann, some branches and a neon sign by Mario Merz and some works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde that I quickly passed by. There's work by Cobra, a statement by Lawrence Weiner and a fascinating painting by Rupprecht Geiger, "Tafraoute" (1965), which looks like a soft hairy red carpet, because of its typical brush strokes. And there is more, a lot more. If you want to, you can have a look at a video of Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty", if not never mind. There's also a photo of a construction site near the Reichstag (1998), which Stéphane Couturier might mistake for one of his own photos, but which is in fact by Frank Thiel.

It was interesting to see Francis Bacon's "Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne in a street in Soho, standing" (1967) next to Picasso's "Buste de femme sur fond gris" (1943) and to see a hat and a rain coat hanging from a hatstand, which could have been left there by Joseph Beuys had he still been alive, but was in fact a work by Jannis Kounellis. It's been a while since I last saw some work by him at an exhibition. Some fifteen years ago you couldn't walk into a museum without stumbling over his sacks of coal.

So, if you're thinking of a short citytrip and want to see some great contemporary art I can highly recommend going to Berlin. Together Gegenwelten and the exhibition of the Flick Collection at the Hamburger Bahnhof (until 28 March) showcase more art than you can savour in a day.

Gegenwelten. Das 20. Jahrhundert in der Neuen Nationalgalerie, Berlin until 22 May 2005.