A prime example of contemporary architecture and the epicentre of political power – whatever you do, don’t miss out on Berlin’s Government District while visiting the city! Hardly anywhere will you be able to get as close to the world stage of politics as here. Germany’s past, present, and future come together in this unique site that covers a large area between Bellevue Castle and Bundesrat. Find out about the highlights below:
There are two buildings that literally every German will easily recognize, and they are right next door to one another: Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, home of the German parliament (“Bundestag”) since 1999. Opened in 1896 the historistic building has always been at the centre of dramatic upheavals and political change. Today it is the heart of German democracy. Heavily damaged in World War II the building was only fully restored in the 1990s with an additional impressive glass-and-steel dome designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster. You can actually climb the dome and enjoy some unforgettable views over the entire Government District, and it’s free! All you got to do is sign up beforehand on their website.
To some it is a masterpiece of postmodern architecture, other see it more as a giant concrete laundry machine. Fact is, the Bundeskanzleramt, seat of the German Chancellor, is one of the most stately edifices in the Government District. Besides the 36 meter high main building there are two strung-out annexes stretching over both sides of the Spree river echoing the German reunification. The design is based on simple geometrical shapes and the building has been in use since 2001. Angela Merkel, arguably the most powerful woman in the world, has been in charge here since 2005 by the way. Worth checking out is the eastern extension of the building named “Paul Löbe Haus” as seen from the riverwalk – architecturally quite impressive. The main building is usually not open to the public, but you may want to sneak into Paul Löbe Haus where many famous politicians reside.
Haus der Kulturen der Welt
Yes, we Berliners do love to give strange nicknames to stuff. Or what would you think of “schwangere Auster” – “pregnant oister”? That is the name people have given to Haus der Kulturen der Welt (“House of the Cultures of the World”), an exhibition venue for contemporary art and forum for current discourses. Special focus of the venue are movements and trends from non-European contexts. The unusual nickname springs from the specific shape of the building, which also houses concert and theatre hall, conference rooms, and an academy under its roof. It’s located right on the Spree river, right behind the “federal washing machine” (Bundeskanzleramt). You can find out about current exhibitions and events on their website.
Marking the western end of the government district lies what is arguably its most representative structure: Bellevue Palace, official residence of the President of Germany, the head of state. Built in 1785/86 as a prime example of early classicism it served as a maison de plaisance for a Prussian prince. Since 1959 the German president (not to be mistaken with the chancellor, the head of government) presides over the palace, since 1994 Bellevue has been his main seat. For security reasons it is not open to the public, only at very special occasions the president opens his gates to invite the people to his modest little cottage. Nonetheless you should pay the palatial compound a visit; it is just really nice there, between the river and the trees of Tiergarten.
You might not have noticed, but reading this article you have actually learned a thing or two about the political system of this country. You don’t think so? Well, you already know that the Chancellor (currently Angela Merkel) is the head of government, while the President (currently Joachim Gauck) is head of state. The Bundestag is the German parliament, but there is a second constitutional body: Bundesrat, the German equivalent to the US Senate or the British House of Lords. Its seat is located slightly outside the spacious green areas of the government district further towards the east on Leipziger Straße. The building goes back to 1904 when it served as Prussian House of Lords and has an impressive entry hall, a beautifully ornamented main entrance, and an ultra-modern plenar hall. There are guided tours multiple times a day so you can be one of roughly 70,000 people visiting the Bundesrat building every year. If you are interested you could even visit a plenary session and watch a few laws being passed or rejected. Further information: here.
From Industriepalast Hostel it’s a 15 minute S-Bahn ride to Central Station (“Hauptbahnhof”), from where you can reach the Government District over a charming little bridge. If you are down for a little walk you may want to take the S-Bahn as far as “Schloss Bellevue” and stroll back via Haus der Kulturen der Welt and Kanzleramt to Reichstag and Bundesrat. Bring some more time in case the weather is nice, for the riverwalk along the Spree river surrounded by beautiful parks is very rewarding. And then again you never know whom you might be running into here…
Enjoy your visit at the heart of German democracy,
is Berliner by choice and a passionate backpacker himself. As a receptionist he knows the real hostel life; as a blogger he's been writing for Industriepalast Hostel's Berlin blog since 2014.