Berlin is full of historically significant architecture, both old and new. But perhaps none reaches the same emotive heights, nor manages to fuse both classical and contemporary elements, quite like the Reichstag. As most history students know, the Reichstag is the seat of the German Bundestag, or federal government. The original building dates from 1884 and from here on in it became the stage for many of Germany’s most dramatic events.
In 1916 it was inscribed with the iconic words Dem Deutschen Volke (‘To the German people’), much to the displeasure of King Wilhelm II. Soon after he abdicated, Germany was proclaimed a republic from one the Reichstag’s windows. However Germany’s years of democracy were short lived. In 1933 the Reichstag suffered a severe fire. Although it origins were never clear, Hitler and the salient NSDAP party seized the opportunity and blamed a communist, kick-starting the horrors of WW2.
In divided Germany, the country had two seats of power: one in West Berlin and the other in Bonn. But after 1990 when many of Germany’s institutions were moved back to Berlin, it was decided that the Reichstag would again house the Bundestag, The British architect Sr. Norman Foster was given the daunting task of renovating the building. His challenge was multileveled; not only did he have to create a point of operation for a newly-restored democratic government, but make it publicly accessible and adhere to historical sensitivity and sustainable factors.
The most striking aspect of the new Reichstag is Foster’s glass dome. Initially controversial, it has become one of New Berlin’s most beloved landmarks. Again ‘For the People’, it is possible to visit the Reichstag (Platz der Republik, Mitte; Open Daily 8am-midnight; last entry at 10pm; free of charge) for the most part of the day. After ascending to the dome, you can walk around enjoying Berlin’s skyline for 360 degrees, or watch the parliamentary sessions from the dome’s observation platform; a metaphor for the German people both ‘being above’ and ‘keeping an eye’ over their politicians.