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Reichstag

Reichstag

The Reichstag is Germany's parliament building, located in the centre of Berlin not far from the Brandenburg Gate. During the Cold War it was part of West Berlin, and the Berlin Wall ran directly behind it.

History

The Reichstag in a coloured postcard, around 1900
The Reichstag around 1900
Construction of the Reichstag began in 1884, to provide a state parliament for the newly unified Reich. The architect was Paul Wallot. Completed in 1894, it was adorned by a steel and glass cupola resembling somewhat a pickelhaube (Prussian spiked helmet).

Following Germany's defeat in the First World War, the Reichstag experienced a somewhat chequered history. In 1918 the first German republic was declared from its balcony. In 1933 it was set on fire, ostensibly by enemies of the newly installed Nazi government, who used this as a convenient excuse to tighten their grip on power. During the Second World War it was damaged by Allied bombing and was one of the last buildings in Berlin to fall to the Soviet army in 1945. The war left it a ruined shell.

Russian graffiti in the ruins of the Reichstag
A British soldier views Russian graffiti in the
ruins of the Reichstag, July 1945
After 1945 the Reichstag lost its purpose as a national parliament, and it remained in ruins until it was rebuilt between 1961 and 1964. This reconstruction was quite basic, and the distinctive cupola was not reconstructed. Until 1990 the building was used only for a permanent exhibition about German history, although it did house occasional representative sessions of the West German Parliament (the Bundestag).

Reichstag (Bundestag, German Parliament) in Berlin
The contemporary Reichstag
Following reunification, the Bundestag voted to move both the German parliament and the seat of government from the old West German capital Bonn to Berlin. As governments like nice buildings, it was decided to create a shiny new governmental complex around the Reichstag, and of course give the building itself a makeover by none other than Norman Foster himself. This involved stripping the Reichstag to its core and creating new structures within the shell of the original building. The most prominent new feature is the controversial new cupola (the round dome on top).

Attractions

The new cupola is open to the public and entry is free. It offers excellent views of the centre of Berlin and also an opportunity to look down on German parliamentarians when they are in session. However be prepared for long queues, and it's worth checking ahead because sometimes it is closed for cleaning.

Afficianados of German politics can also gain entrance to the viewers' gallery in the legislative chamber. Prior registration is necessary; the Bundestag's website has further details. The chamber itself is worth a visit for the architecture, particularly to see the cupola's scorpion-like tail hanging over the politicos like a post-modern Sword of Damocles. (Note: if your interests don't cover politics or architecture, skip the chamber and have a doze on the grass in the nearby Tiergarten. You'll have much more fun.)

In some parts of the Reichstag, Russian graffiti dating from 1945 has been preserved as a poignant reminder of the building's history.

Bundestag (Station) (0.2 km), Platz des 18. März (0.3 km), Brandenburg Gate (0.3 km), French Embassy in Berlin (0.3 km), Pariser Platz (0.3 km), Federal Chancellery building (0.4 km), The Kennedys (0.4 km), Swiss Embassy in Berlin (0.4 km), Brandenburger Tor (Station) (0.4 km)