The Reichstag serves as the seat of the German Bundestag (Lower House of German Parliament similar to the U.S. House of Representatives). After having been destroyed during World War II, it was reconstructed between 1994 and 1999 following the reunification of Germany. Visitors can observe the meetings of the Bundestag via a special platform.
The Reichstag in Berlin, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014, www.walled-in-berlin.com
History of the Reichstag
First Reichstag building
Emperor Wilhelm II ordered the construction of the original building not long after the initial unification of German nations. The Reichstag was designed by German architect Paul Wallot and constructed between 1884 and 1894. Wallot’s design included a large dome.
A memorable event occurred in 1918 when Phillipp Scheidemann, a German politician, shouted from one of the Reichstag windows that Germany had transitioned from a monarchy to a republic. Although the proclamation was premature and made without legal authority, the emperor soon abdicated and Germany, indeed, became a republic – the Weimar Republic – a few days later.
In 1933, part of the First Reichstag was destroyed in the Reichstag Fire. Later, during World War II, the remainder of the building was completely destroyed during allied bombing raids.
In 1961, the reconstructed Reichstag building opened its doors again. It did not have a dome and it did not house the government. Based on plans by German architect Paul Baumgarten, it was reconstructed as a conference center and housed a permanent exhibition entitled “Questions on German history.”
Current Reichstag building
In 1994, the artist Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude wrapped the entire building in specially made fabric panels. The same year, a second reconstruction of the Reichstag began. This time, the original design was followed as closely as possible and included a cupola. World-famous Lord Norman Foster of Britain was the architect. However, the inclusion of the cupola was not Foster’s brainchild but that of German architect Gottfried Boehm. Foster incorporated Boehm’s idea upon insistence of the Bundestag. In 1999, the Bundestag moved into the rebuilt Reichstag after having been located in Bonn since 1949.
The Reichstag Cupola
The large glass dome at the top of the Reichstag has a 360-degree view of the city and is open to the public. A mirrored cone in the center of the cupola directs sunlight into the building, and visitors can see into the debate chamber of the parliament below. The opportunity to watch parliament in session symbolizes that the people are above rather than at the mercy of government, as was the case during Nazi times. A spiral walkway allows visitors to walk to the very top of the conical structure. The Reichstag is well worth a visit. But be sure to make advance reservations, as the lines are always long.
Spiral walkway inside the Reichstag cupola. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2000, www.walled-in-berlin.com
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