Surviving a tumultuous history, the German Reichstag building is a must see in Berlin.
A stone’s throw from the famous Brandenburg Gate–the iconic symbol of the border where East Germany meets West–the Reichstag (parliament or diet) building looms large and imposing. The neo-renaissance facade, complete with massive columns, fit in well in the late 1890s when it was initially conceived to represent the power and might of the newly united German Empire. The original building took ten years to complete and has stood in one form or another as a symbol of the country.
In 1933 the Reichstag was badly damaged in a fire Hitler blamed on the Communists. Whether true or not, he used this as the trigger allowing him to gain emergency powers and thus begin his dictatorship. After World War II, the West German Parliament moved their proceedings to Bonn and, although partially repaired and reconstructed, the Reichstag sat largely unused sadly waiting for the day when East and West would be reunited.
That reunification finally came about at the end of the Cold War at midnight on October 3rd, 1990. About four years later, it was decided to move the seat of Federal power and the Bundestag back to Berlin. However, the Reichstag was in dire need of repairs and thus renovations began under the direction of the brilliant, British architect, Norman Foster.
Both the old and new Reichstag had a dome, but the new dome was to be an energy-efficient symbol of modern architecture. This new dome is a windowed structure of steel, mirrors, and light that extends from the dome to hang over the seating area of the diet, flooding the chamber in soft, diffused natural light. Visitors to the dome find that smaller ceiling dome surrounded by informational panels about the Reichstag and the dome’s construction; you’re also given a bird’s eye view down into the seats of power below.
Then there is a funnel-shaped cone to allow for fresh air circulation. It rises up out of the central chamber and vents directly out through the top of the dome. When we were there, a soft rain was falling and it just made the experience that much more tangible.
To get to the uppermost part of the dome, you walk up a spiral ramp and come down the ramp on the other side. So that if you look closely, one level is ascending and the other is descending. The entire time you can listen to the audio-tour which is full of fascinating information, both cultural and technical.
On the bottom level of the dome you can go outside and walk around, take in the views of Berlin’s skyline. You can also go to the restaurant for a first class meal, although, it’s a good idea to book ahead if you want to have dinner there.
Be aware, it takes some advance planning to visit the Reichstag. Very rarely can you walk up and just go in right away. We arrived at about 10:00 am, and the next four tours were full. We could have gone through in the afternoon, but we opted instead to wait until the next morning. So, if you have a few days, you can go and book it for a later time in person, but you can also book online. The problem with this was, there were plenty of people in our line who had thought they pre-booked, but did not confirm their registration. Without confirming it, they were not reserved and all of them had to come back later along with us. Apparently this happens all too often as the guides were well-rehearsed in their responses. Hopefully, they will get that issue fixed