by Angela Franco
The Reichstag Building is one of the most visited monuments in Berlin. Every year, thousands of tourists visit it and go up to the dome to enjoy the fantastic view through its glass walls. But it’s not only the amazing view that makes it a must see, it is a piece of Berlin’s history; the decisions made inside it condition and determine the political future of Germany because it harbors the German parliamentary meetings.
When I arrived in Berlin, I did the typical Berlin tours to see the most important parts of the city: the monuments, the museums … sure, I heard about the Reichstag Building. Many people told me that it was a place that is worth visiting, that it was an amazing building and very important for Berlin and Germany. I never paid much attention to it, mainly because I am not very interested in politics and I prefer to spend my time in museums, parks or just walking around the city. But one day, a friend came to visit me. He was very interested in politics and I decided to take him to the Reichstag. I looked on the Reichstag’s website and scheduled a visit the dome. I was surprised when I saw that there were not many places left on the day we wanted to go, but finally, we managed to get them. We went there and afterwards I could only regret for not having visited it before!
The construction work of the Reichstag began in 1871. A competition was carried out to choose an architect, however, there were problems with the location of the new building. The Königsplatz was occupied by the palace of a Polish-Prussian aristocrat. But after some negotiations, the palace was demolished and the Reichstag could finally be constructed, although that would take place 10 years later. In 1882, a second architecture competition was held. The winner was Paul Wallot from Frankfurt. He designed a huge Neo- Baroque building inspired by Memorial Hall in Philadelphia. The decorations of the Reichstag building (sculptures, reliefs and inscriptions) were designed by Otto Lessing. In 1884 Wilhem I placed the first stone. Until 1918, the Reichstag seated the Imperial Diet of the German Kaiserreich and, after World War I, the German Republic was proclaimed from one of its balconies on 9th of November. Between 1919 and 1933, during the Weimar Republic, the Reichstag continued to be the place were the members of the Parliament met.
On 27th of February 1933 the Reichstag burnt. This was the pretext the Nazis used to take more control over Germany and to reduce constitutional rights, blaming the communists for the fire. During the Third Reich, the Reichstag was not used as the Parliament House, instead, it was used to harbour propagandistic events and for military purposes. During the Second World War the Reichstag was greatly damaged by bombs.
The Reichstag was completely in ruins after the war and it had no use during the Cold War. It was restored in the 1960s and, until the 1990s, the building was mainly used for representative events, but its artistic value was still important for Germany. After the reunification of Germany, the country’s government and parliament returned to Berlin and to the Reichstag. That same year, Norman Foster was the architect selected to once again restore the building. The exterior walls were respected, including a piece of graffiti created by a Soviet soldier after the war. The whole reconstruction was finally finished in 1999.
Nowadays, I would say that the reason why the Reichstag is the second most visited place of Berlin is its dome. Norman Foster designed its huge glass dome as a memory of the 1884 original cupola, and as a sign of the Reunification of Germany and the transparency of German politics. The dome offers a 360° view of Berlin. It is completely made of glass and gives the visitors an incredible view of the cityscape. When I went with my friend, I discovered places and monuments that I had not seen before. Moreover, the debating chamber can be seen below the dome, symbolising that the visitors, the citizens, are above the politicians. We enjoyed the magnificent view at day, but I would say that it might be even more impressive when it is dark. Tourists can have a perfect overview from above of what Berlin has to offer. Visitors use the lift to go up to the roof of the Reichstag, which also has a very impressive view, and then they enter the dome. Through two ramps they can go to the upper part of the dome. Moreover, an audio guide is offered for free. It gives very useful information about the buildings and monuments that can be seen. The Reichstag stands between Brandenburger Tor and Tiergarten. From the outside, it is a huge monumental building with great stairs that lead to the main entrance. German flags can be seen everywhere. The main entrance simulates a Greek temple with friezes, inscriptions and columns. It also has multiple windows, smooth walls and dozens of figures adorning the edges of the roof.
The glass dome stands out from the rest of the building. The Reichstag has a solemn and official character while the dome has a more futuristic tone, creating a mixture of styles. In front of the building is a big esplanade with grass that leads to the Tiergarten.
In conclusion, I would say that the Reichstag is one of the most important buildings of Berlin. And not only for its political functions but also for all the history its offers to visitors, as well as for its fantastic view. It is an unique experience. After having visited it with my friend, I have visited it again twice and I can say that it has always been worth it.