As a symbol of German democracy, the Reichstag building is a must-see during your visit to Berlin.
A Visit is a Highlight
In the summer of 1995, artists Javacheff and Denat de Guillebon undertook the task of wrapping the Reichstag building in silver cloth. The event was witnessed by millions of Germans and followed worldwide. This monumental work represents political power in a constantly renewed ephemeral state, defining the challenges of the new German democracy.
Though it played virtually no role during the National Socialist period, the Reichstag serves as a systematic reminder of totalitarianism. More than that, it stands as a testament to the failure of the democratic system. Parliamentary democracy had allowed the Nazis to legally ascend to power, but failed to provide a safeguard against fascism. The burning of the building in February 1933 led to the adoption of exceptional measures that laid the foundation for dictatorship.
Following reunification, Berlin reclaimed its status as the capital, and the Reichstag resumed its function as the national parliament. However, renovation was necessary. Since architecture is a reflection of contemporary issues, a pressing question arose in public debate: Which architectural form would best symbolize the new German democratic system?
British architect Norman Foster, known for his modern designs, was brought in. He melded modernity and tradition, glass and stone into a cohesive dynamic. He breathed new life into the symbolism by building a replacement dome for the one destroyed after the war, replacing the opacity of the original with a transparent and open structure.
While Foster's architectural achievement is undeniable, his greatest success lies in providing a face and meaning to reunified Germany. Even better, the upper parts of the building are open to the general public.
A Deep Dive into the Heart of German Democracy
Visiting the dome of the Reichstag building is free, but access is regulated. An online registration must be confirmed in advance. Visitors must undergo standard identity and security checks. Access to the building's terrace is strictly supervised. These restrictions are necessary and unavoidable. However, the well-organized reception team ensures smooth movement and minimal wait times. The expansive terrace offers a panoramic view of Berlin and nearby landmarks, such as the Tiergarten Park and Sony Center.
A short distance from the Reichstag building stand the impressive New Chancellery and the Parliamentary Committee building. Both are equally modern structures, featuring extensive use of glass.
Access to the dome is available at several points. At its inner base, a round square forms around a gigantic pillar of reflective glass and mirrors. An exhibition on the history of the German democratic model is presented to visitors, with the plenary hall visible below.
A large circular staircase leads to the top of the structure, an unforgettable ascent. Audio guides are available, and the visitor service also offers the chance to attend a one-hour presentation on Germany's political institutions. This presentation is followed by a visit to the building's terrace. The registration procedure is the same as above.
When Architecture Reflects Political Ambitions
After a tumultuous 20th century, reunified Germany faced two problems. First, it needed to define a democratic model where citizens could connect with their representatives. Trust does not exclude oversight.
The new Reichstag masterfully symbolizes transparency, proximity, and openness in one architectural ensemble. The conditions of access remain flexible considering the strategic importance of the premises, tending towards a more democratic process. The Reichstag presents itself as the showcase of new Germany, both through its architecture and the services offered to the public. Even beyond political considerations, visitors can appreciate the panoramic views and grand architecture.
The second challenge was reconciling with the past. The Reichstag was renovated, not rebuilt. The renovation modernized a pre-existing structure, with the original foundations retained. The stone represents our origins, while the glass points to our future: from the earth to the sky.
Foster's accomplishment is key to the narrative. There is no denial of history. German democracy does not erase the nation's dark and tragic past. Therefore, a visit to the Reichstag building is a must for every visitor to the German capital.
Reasons to Visit
Accessible and democratic
Reasons to Skip
Insufficient public toilets
Idealized view of the German democratic system