Berlin’s Bundestag, Reichstag Building and Dome

Reichstag Building – Wikipedia

Last night I visited the German Bundestag and toured the Reichstag dome. I took the U-Bahn and then enjoyed the city lights during a misty walk along the canal. Reichstag security is tight with guards patrolling the building inside and out. You must register in advance and present your passport for identification. It’s a tedious drill and the frisking part isn’t pleasant, but it’s worth the experience.

Marie-Elisabeth Lüders House on the Canal Near Reichstag

The Reichstag is in the Berlin Government District which has interesting buildings named after parliamentarians. It’s near Brandenburg Gate where a small group of people gathered to pray, sing, and dance celebrating Hanukkah. Berlin constructed a temporary menorah in front of the Gate to honor the Jewish holidays.

German Bundestag

The Bundestag is the National Parliament and the legislative branch of the Federal Republic of Germany. Since 2017, Wolfgang Schäuble is the President of the Federal Assembly and the Bundestag. He’s been a “member of the Bundestag since 1972 and is the longest-serving member of all German parliaments ever elected at national level”. Dr. Schäuble was formerly Minister of the Interior and Finance and instrumental in negotiating the German Unification Treaty in 1990.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble

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“The Reichstag bears silent witness to the turbulent history of Berlin and is one of the city’s most significant historical buildings.”

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Reichstag Dome

The Bundestag:

  • Creates federal law
  • Changes the constitution
  • Approves treaties
  • Decides the federal budget
  • Exercises parliamentary control over the government and executive branch
  • Expresses the wishes of the people

Reichstag Dome –  Berlin Like A Local Guide

Since 1999, the Bundestag is in the Reichstag building in Berlin. The Federal Assembly meets in the Plenary Chamber, the largest hall in the building. The chamber has a visitor’s gallery. Rules and decorum of the current German government seem very complex – rightly so

Reichstag in Winter – Depositphotos britpics

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“In its long history, Germany has rarely been united. For most of the two millennia that German-speaking peoples inhabited Central Europe, the area now called Germany consisted of hundreds of separate states…”

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Original Berlin Reichstag

In the lobby at the base of the dome there’s a permanent exhibition with photos and narrative presenting a detailed historical account of the German Government. It covers ununited Germany to postwar unification, beginning with Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor (742-814), and including the House of Habsburg (1618-1648), Weimar Republic (1919 to 1933), and Hitler’s Nazi  Regime (1933 -1945).

View of Plenary Chamber from Above

“Germans elect representatives by universal, direct, free, equal, and secret ballot in 299 constituencies.” Through election these representatives receive a mandate and are called MPs. The complicated system of “personalized proportional representation allows voters, on the one hand, to vote for the political party they prefer, and on the other hand, to vote independently for a candidate of their constituency”.

Interior of Plenary Chamber of German Parliament

I was more interested in seeing the spectacular glass dome than learning about German government but to understand a country, first you must spend time there and learn its history. Otherwise, it’s easy to make wrong judgments and incorrect assumptions and conclusions. Germany is a complex country requiring concentrated effort to fully comprehend its rocky past. What I learned is there’s lots more to learn

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Plenary Hall is “illuminated by a mirror system that diverts daylight from the dome into the Reichstag building”.

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Wolfgang Schäuble President of the Federal Assembly and Bundestag – cdu.de

Reichstag Building and Glass Dome

In 1990 the Reichstag was the site of the official reunification ceremony. After restoration from 1995 -1999, it once again became the home of the German National Parliament. The glass dome was not part of the original plans for Reichstag renovation – that’s a separate and interesting story.

Architect Norman Foster – © dpa Guillaume Horcajuelo

After the rebuild, British architect Norman Foster designed the glass dome to symbolize Germany’s reunification. There’s an incredible 360 degree view of Berlin from the top!  A mirrored cone in the center allows visitors to see the Reichstag’s Plenary Chamber below and watch government in process.

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You reach the top of the dome by climbing “two steel, spiraling ramps that are reminiscent of a double helix“. The Dome “symbolizes that the people are above the government, as was not the case during Nazism”.

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Brandenburger Tor in 1945 After Berlin Bombing

Foster designed the glass dome to be environmentally friendly. “Energy efficient features use daylight shining through the mirrored cone to decrease carbon emissions”. A large “sun shield tracks the movement of the sun electronically and blocks direct sunlight to prevent large solar gain from dazzling those below”.

Menorah at Brandenburg Gate

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The futuristic and transparent design of the Reichstag Dome symbolizes Berlin’s attempt to move away from a past of Nazism toward a future with emphasis on a united, democratic Germany.

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Paul Wallot Original Architect German Bundestag

History of the Original Reichstag

The original Reichstag was built in 1895 and designed by Frankfurt architect Paul Wallot. The building featured a large dome. In 1933, the Reichstag Fire destroyed the entire building. The Communists were blamed, but there was no conclusive evidence.

After the devastating fire, remains of the building and the dome were further demolished with horrific bombings of The Battle of Berlin, through World War II, and during Berlin’s fall to the Soviets in 1945. The original Reichstag building – minus the dome – was partly reconstructed in the 1960s as a conference center.

Every day, people line up and wait for hours to visit the Reichstag. I decided to take a night tour, but it was a rainy evening so visibility wasn’t great. Touring the dome is a special experience!

Exploring Berlin

New Synagogue

Learning to navigate a large city requires patience and perseverance – ha… Berlin’s heated pace is both daunting and exhilarating. I’ve gone from being hopelessly lost to feeling ecstatic while blending with locals and making successful transport connections!

French Cathedral

Navigating Berlin

As a point of comparison, Istanbul’s 14 million population makes Berlin’s 4 million seem small, but to me, Istanbul’s public transit system is easier to learn. Switching between the U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (suburban train) is confusing. My U-Bahn station is Gneisenaustraße – still trying to pronounce it correctly. During my first subway outing a Berliner helped by providing directions involving a U-Bahn to S-Bahn transfer. There are various transfer options and this one turned out to be complicated (for a tourist), somehow leaving me in the middle of nowhere at night, terrified!

Wilhelminian Style Architecture

When will I learn the lesson about not asking locals for directions – a basic rule that continues to elude my travels? Essential elements of getting around seamlessly and independently in foreign countries include MapsMe or Google Maps and a power charger for your smartphone. In Berlin, speaking German is also helpful…

Gendarmenmarkt – Deutscher Dom, Französischer Dom, Berlin Konzerthaus

Berlin Opera House St. Hedwig’s Episcopal Cathedral

Berlin Tours

I’ve booked some interesting tours and decided to make “dry runs”, to eliminate 11th hour drama reaching the starting point on time. Berlin is a city of striking images, but I haven’t taken many photos – dangerous while still getting your bearings.

German Cathedral

Berlin Cathedral

Yesterday I joined a six-hour walking tour led by Berlin Like A Local. As with most of these outings, there was too much detailed information provided. The tour lasted most of the day – with a 30-minute lunch break and a few moving caffeine stops. We walked at a fast pace with little time for photos or chit-chat. Since then, I’ve downloaded self-guided tours to my smartphone. The next walking tour will be at my pace, and I can replay the commentary as many times as necessary :o).

Jewish Cemetery

Holocaust Survivors

Checkpoint Charlie – Getty Images

The group included tourists from Amsterdam, Zürich, London, and New York City. They were in their 20s – 30s and good fun. Most of them were visiting Berlin to experience its vibrant techno nightlife scene. The Londoner shared pointers about Albania – possibly my next stop. One young couple was on their way to Prague.

German Museum

Berliner Dome During the Festival of Lights – Shutterstock

Our Australian guide from Melbourne had lived in Berlin for over 4 years while attending university. He majored in subjects which make him an expert on European history and a powerhouse of information. His commentary was funny at times, e.g., he told us “you can take a dog or a beer anywhere in Berlin”…

German Bakery

Attractions and Landmarks

Some of the sites we saw are listed below – more for my benefit than readers of this post. Each site has its own unique history and compelling story. We began in the east near River Spree at the Tränenpalast Museum (Tears Palace) and ended at Brandenburg Gate in the west.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The stark Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe designed by Peter Eisenman is graphic and impressive. It consists of 2,711 cuboid concrete stelae (slabs) and encompasses an entire block near the Brandenburg Gate. We walked respectfully through the controversial memorial. It’s difficult to describe the feelings of isolation and helplessness as the concrete blocks grow taller and a slanted pavement adds to the disorientation. Eisenman’s brilliant work gets your attention and makes its brutal point.

Retro look Unter den Linden, Berlin

Unter den Linden Boulevard – 123RF

Brandenburg Gate

We took a break on top of Hitler’s underground air-raid bunker where he and Eva Braun committed suicide. It’s now blended with the landscaping of a modern apartment complex. Another interesting spot was the exterior of Angela Merkel’s flat in Prenzlauer Berg where she no longer stays. Trendy Prenzlauer Berg has old Wilhelminian-style buildings and fashionable cafés and shops. The apartment rents for € 65 per night.

River Spree

During the 1990s, the fall of the Berlin Wall brought extreme euphoria, wild partying, and a “chaotic, anarchistic mood”. Since then, Berlin has experienced major change! This was a cursory tour. Over the next few months I will look deeper and gain a better understanding of Berlin’s fascinating past and bright future. Although not always immediately obvious, Berlin’s dark past and present intertwine.

Bebelplatz

Memorial to George Elser – Hitler’s Would Be Assassin

Mitte Side Street

Memorial to Nazi Burning of Books Bebelplatz

Clear autumn weather in the 70s is to continue this week. I’m besotted with Berlin and the adventures so far. Happy to be staying in the Kreuzberg / Neukölln area, a vibrant community rich in diversity and character.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Mehr später…