Seat of the German parliament, magnet for visitors, and symbol of democracy: the Reichstag building. For over a century it has been the pivotal element of German history, has seen the highs and lows of a chequered time, and welcomes now millions of visitors every year. Keep reading and find out why Reichstag is one of the top attractions in the capital and why you must by no means miss a free visit there.
On the pulse of time
No historic turning point, no turmoil, no revolution without this splendid building at the focus of attention. Right from the laying of the foundation stone it made for a political issue: Emperor William I was not exactly fond of democratic structures, especially not when it came to a strong parliament. The construction process left a nasty taste in the mouth of his son and successor William II, too. The simple reason: its dome was going to be higher than that of the City Palace. To him, the “Reich’s ape house” as he vilified the seat of Reichstag, the German parliament at the time, was an “insult of tastelessness”. Construction was brought to completion nonetheless after only ten years in 1894. The huge cupola was considered a masterpiece of engineering. Emperor William was still no friend of parliamentarism, but that was of no advantage to him: In 1918, right after the end of World War I, politician Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the country a republic here – the first real phase of democracy in Germany.
Only four weeks after Hitler had seized power and practically abolished the still fresh democracy, Reichstag building was in the spotlight again: February 27, 1933, saw Reichstag in flames, with the circumstances remaining unclear up until this day. The nazis spoke of arson and went on to instrumentalize the incident for their purposes. Political opponents were immediately persecuted, minorities oppressed, Hitler’s power extended. The gutted building was reconstructed only provisionally in order to host a hospital during World War II. When Berlin was bombed towards the end of the war, Reichstag too suffered heavy damage. Now a ruin, it stood in West Berlin, only meters away from the frontier. The remainders of the dome were demolished in 1954, allegedly for safety reasons. Bonn had become the FRG’s new capital and no one spoke of the parliament returning to Berlin anytime soon. The Berlin wall ran basically right through the backyard of Reichstag after 1961, still the building was reconstructed and renovated. The architects simplified the frontage slightly, shortened the corner towers a little, and enlarged the assembly hall massively – only the dome was not to be reconstructed. Being the taller neighbor of famous Brandenburg Gate the world was watching when hundreds of thousands of people from the East and West celebrated the fall of the wall on November 9, 1989 together here. Two years later, the Bundestag (the German parliament) decided to move back to Berlin, thus making it capital of Germany again. Reichstag building was therefore altered and renovated again, including a sophisticated new glass dome by famous British architect Norman Foster. Before the construction works began, artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude spectacularly wrapped the entire building as part of one of history’s biggest art installations ever. Since 1999 the Bundestag resides again at historic Reichstag building.
Reichstag building is one of the capital’s most popular sights and the most-visited parliament in all of Europe. Nestled between Brandenburg Gate and Central Station it marks the heart of Berlin’s government district. Spectacular views await you inside the fully accessible, technologically impressive glass dome and from the rooftop observation deck. You can also take a guided tour inside the parliament building, attend a plenary session of the Bundestag or visit art exhibitions here. There are special programs for children and teenagers, as well as an audio guide for visually impaired people, interesting seminars, workshops, talks, and exhibitions. There’s a great infrastructure for school groups and other larger groups. Visiting the Reichstag is always free of admission, you must however register online. If you want to visit spontaneously there are often last-minute slots available at the service centre on site, for a stress-free visit we highly recommend a registration in advance though. You can find all registration forms on the Bundestag official homepage.
Our team from Industriepalast Hostel Berlin wish you a great visit at the heart of German democracy, the Reichstag!
Picture: Datei: #113922717 | Urheber: marcelheinzmann – fotolia
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.