Posts Tagged ‘Reichstag’

The Reichstag – Prominent Berlin Landmark

Monday, July 25th, 2016


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,

The Reichstag in Berlin, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014,

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.

First Reconstruction

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.


Inside the Reichstag cupola. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2000,

Spiral walkway inside the Reichstag cupola. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2000,


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of



The Striking German Chancellery

Monday, July 18th, 2016


The German Chancellery in Berlin, known as the Bundeskanzleramt, is one of the largest government headquarters in the world. Occupying 129,166 square feet, it is more than twice the size of the White House in Washington. While the Chancellery’s architecture is modern, Germany’s Parliament, the Reichstag, just across the adjacent open plaza, has an “old-world” look. The Bundeskanzleramt’s simple and open design is to symbolize transparency in government.

German Chancellery in Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

German Chancellery in Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

Location and architecture of the Chancellery

The German Chancellery is located in a bend in the River Spree and consists of three connected structures. At the heart of the grouping stands a nine-story white cube. Its entrance is framed by a series of freestanding columns. Large glass facades give it an airy look. This is where official receptions and presentations are hosted. The two connecting wings house the administrative staff.

German Chancellery in the bend of the River Spree. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

German Chancellery in the bend of the River Spree. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

History of the German Chancellery

The German Chancellery was established in 1871 as Reichskanzlei (Imperial Chancellery) of the German Empire. The Reichskanzlei was located in the Wilhelmstrasse, just a little over a mile southeast from the current location. In 1939, construction was completed on the Neue Reichskanzlei (New Imperial Chancellery) in the Vossstrasse, also close to the current location. The New Imperial Chancellery was damaged during World War II and subsequently razed by Soviet occupation forces.

After World War II and the division of Berlin and Germany, Bonn became the seat of the West German government. In 1949, the West German Chancellery moved to Bonn. At the same time, East Germany created the Volkskammer (People’s Chamber), the East German Parliament. The Volkskammer eventually moved into the Palace of the Republic in East Berlin.

In the summer of 1999, the government of the reunited Germany returned to Berlin. Until the new German Chancellery building was completed, the Chancellor’s offices were temporarily housed in the former State Council building (Staatsratsgebaeude). In spring of 2001, the current Bundeskanzleramt opened for business.

The Chancellor’s apartment

While located in Bonn, a separate bungalow had served as the private residence for the Chancellor and family. Although an apartment for the Chancellor is located on the top floor of the central Chancellery cube, current Chancellor Angela Merkel prefers to live in her private apartment. She and her husband, Professor Joachim Sauer, reside at “Am Kupfergraben 6,” across from Museum Island in the Mitte District of Berlin. Contrary to the extensive security that surrounds top State officials in the United States, Merkel’s apartment building is watched over by just two policemen. There are no blocked streets, no police vans and no armed guards.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of












Image-challenged Walter Ulbricht

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Walter Ulbricht was a 20th century East German politician who always knew which side his bread was buttered on. By instinctively understanding whom to defer to and which efforts to pursue, he became East Germany’s postwar leader. Loyal to Leninist and Stalinist principles, he was described by peers and populace alike as an inflexible, dull and unlikeable man. It didn’t help that he spoke with a squeaky falsetto voice due to a childhood diphtheria infection. Still, he remained East Germany’s chief decision maker until 1971 – a period of more than twenty years. A joke made the rounds in East Germany during those years. It went like this: An airplane crashes carrying the presidents of the United States and France and the British Queen. They all perish. Which country mourns the most? The answer: East Germany because Ulbricht wasn’t on the plane.,postext,herbst89,artikel_id,12915.html

Who was Walter Ulbricht?

Walter Ulbricht came from humble beginnings. He was born in 1893 to a tailor in Leipzig, Germany. After graduating primary school, Ulbricht trained as a cabinetmaker. Since both his parents were active in the Social Democratic Party (SPD), young Ulbricht joined the party as well. He was 19 at the time. Eight years later, in 1920, he left the SPD and joined the newly created KPD, the Communist Party of Germany. By aligning himself with the “right” people he rose swiftly through party ranks.

Walter Ulbricht, East German Statesman 1950-1971

Walter Ulbricht, East German Statesman

Walter Ulbricht’s political life

Walter Ulbricht quickly became an important member in the party. In 1923, he was elected to the Central Committee and five years later to the Reichstag (German parliament). He remained a member of the Reichstag until 1933 when the Nazis came to power. When they imprisoned other KPD leaders in connection with a high profile murder, Ulbricht fled to France, Czechoslovakia and finally Spain. Between 1937 and 1945, he settled in Moscow and resided in the famous Hotel Lux. While there, he worked on a variety of communist causes.

Walter Ulbricht – leader of East Germany

In April 1945, Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, chose Walter Ulbricht to lead a group of party functionaries into Germany to begin reconstruction of the Communist party in Germany. Within the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany and the Soviet-occupied sector of Berlin, Social Democrats were pressured into merging with the Communist party to form the new Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). After the founding of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in 1949, Ulbricht became Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers. In 1950, he became General Secretary of the SED Central Committee and First Secretary in 1953. After the death of Stalin that same year, Ulbricht’s position was in danger. However, the East German Uprising of 1953 helped him to gain the Kremlin’s support. With Moscow’s backing, Ulbricht suppressed the uprising and secured his position in East Germany. From that point on, Walter Ulbricht was East Germany’s chief decision maker.

Ulbricht continued to plot his course. By 1952, he had nationalized 80 percent of the industry, which resulted in an economy that was short of consumer goods and often produced goods of shoddy quality. When his economic measures proved flawed, millions of East Germans fled to the west. Aware of the possibility of a total collapse of East Germany, Ulbricht pressured the Soviet Union in early 1961 to stop the outflow or workers and to resolve the status of Berlin. This led to the construction of the Berlin Wall, only two months after Ulbricht had emphatically denied that there were such plans when he stated, “No one has any intention of building a wall.” The Berlin Wall became a public relations disaster for Ulbricht and the Soviet Union. By the late 1960s, Ulbricht found himself more and more isolated, both at home and abroad. His refusal to work with West Germany on Soviet terms infuriated Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev. In 1971, Ulbricht was forced to resign from virtually all of his public functions. He was only allowed to remain head of state as Chairman of the Council of State in an honorary capacity.

Walter Ulbricht was a survivor

Image-challenged Walter Ulbricht came close to being toppled several times, but he always landed on his feet. His private life was beset with difficulties as well. Next time, I will write about his relationship with his wife, Lotte, and their daughter, Beate.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


25 years ago today Berlin Wall became history

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Twenty-five years ago today, the Berlin Wall became history. On this day 25 years ago – on February 19, 1990 – East German border guards began the large-scale demolition of the Berlin Wall. By the end of the year, most of the Berlin Wall – or the “anti-fascist protection rampart” as it was called in East Germany – was history.

The demolition process that had been started by private Mauerspechte (wallpeckers), was completed by commercial construction crews. The initial teardown began in the area of the Brandenburg Gate. With jackhammers, crews began to remove 570 feet of Berlin Wall that stood between the Reichstag (Seat of the German Parliament) and Checkpoint Charlie (best known Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Berlin). Trucks carted away the 2.6-ton wall segments. The East German company Limex would later sell them for up to 500,000 marks each.

The same area that was first freed from the Berlin Wall was also the location of the first provisional border crossing between East and West Berlin, hastily created in December 1989. Less than three years earlier, President Ronald Reagan had appealed to the Soviet leader: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” No one had imagined then that those words might soon become reality.

When the concrete elements were finally released from their foundation in February of 1990, most Berliners celebrated the event like a street festival. But not everyone shared their enthusiasm. Also on the day the Berlin Wall began to come down, a group of East German civil rights activists, clergy and politicians came together to discuss potential paths to a democratic transformation of East Germany. The group did not want to join West Germany and hoped to find a different solution. But East Germany was facing bankruptcy and economic collapse. In the preceding weeks and months, Hans Modrow, the last premier of the East German regime, had tried in vain to obtain a 15 billion mark loan from West Germany. At the end of their meeting on February 19, 1990, the group of round table members rejected the plan of joining West Germany and called for a demilitarized united Germany instead. We know that history did not support their decision.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.