Visitors in the glass dome of the Reichstag building.
The Reichstag building was completed in 1894 following German national unity and the establishment of the German Reich in 1871. After a complete restoration of Paul Wallot's original building, the Bundestag reconvened here in Sir Norman Foster's spectacularly restored Reichstag building on April 19, 1999. Following German reunification on October 3, 1990 the Bundestag (German Federal Parliament) decided, one year later, to make the Reichstag the seat of Parliament in Berlin, the restored capital of reunited Germany.
History of the Reichstag building
The Reichstag building was completed in 1894 following German national unity and the establishment of the German Reich in 1871. Under the attentive eye of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Paul Wallot's Reichstag competition winner of 1882 was a synthesis of High Renaissance and classical motifs such as the façade of columned porticos. It already included a modern glass and steel dome. The building's grandeur was accentuated by an imposing projecting columned entrance supporting a triangular gable and a wide flight of steps that must be climbed to reach the main entrance portal. The result was a four-wing structure with two inner courtyards and a central plenary chamber and an emperor's crown at a height of 75m on the lantern. Ironically, the building's site was considered slightly unfortunate at the time because its entrance was facing the wrong side – West - with its back to the imperial Schloss and the 19th century city centre. The famous inscription - "DEM DEUTSCHEN VOLK" - (to the German nation), a 1916 addition by Peter Behrens, still towers above the monumental entrance.
The Reichstag suffered damage and destruction over the course of the 20th century. The fire of 1933 completely destroyed the original plenary hall and it was necessary to demolish the original dome in 1954. Paul Baumgarten's restoration completed in 1961 gave the building a new function as a venue for parliamentary committee meetings and exhibitions, located in the Western part of divided Berlin, just beyond the Wall, a short walk north of the Brandenburg Gate.
New cupola of the Reichstag building
After reunification and the Bundestag's move from Bonn to Berlin it became necessary to equip and thoroughly modernise the languishing building. The British architect, Sir Norman Foster was commissioned to carry out the mammoth conversion project which caused heated controversy as his original design of a baldachin roof covering the entire building was rejected in 1995. The Bundestag voted for a slightly more conservative reconstruction of the original dome in modern guise. In fact the Reichstag's new dome - or cupola - with its vast central glass cylinder is amongst the most impressive features, visually and technically designed to reflect natural light into the plenary chamber. It provides natural ventilation and light with a mirror system which directs light inside the chamber during the day and reflects it back at night. Ecological considerations about renewable energy sources resulted in heating and air-conditioning technology fuelled by rape seed oil with underground refrigeration and heating units.
Historic events at the Reichstag
The Reichstag played centre stage to momentous events in German history. Amongst the most eventful moments were SPD (Social Democratic Party) member Philipp Scheidemann's proclamation of the first German Republic in 1918, following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the end of the monarchy. The fire of 1933 which Hitler blamed on the communists led to Hitler's emergency powers. The end of World War II in May 1945 was immortalised by the iconic photograph by TASS photographer Yevgeny Khaldei – the image of the Red Army soldier heroically hoisting the hammer-and-sickle flag on the collapsing Reichstag parapet. This was in fact a montage made weeks later and retouched with clouds and smoke - for effect.
Reichstag wrapped by Christo in 1995
The official reunification of Germany was held here on October 2, 1990. Germany was officially reunified at 00:00 CET on October 3, 1990 following the Unification Treaty between the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany, which went into effect on September 29, 1990. More recently, Berliners and visitors from all over the world flocked to experience the wrapping of the Reichstag in the summer of 1995 when Bulgarian artists Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude, known for their wrapping of buildings and natural objects, covered the entire Reichstag in fabric. The magic event lasted for two weeks as a last salute before restoration got under way.
Visiting the Reichstag
Today a visit to the Reichstag is a must. Visitor highlights include a lift ride to the top of the building to a large viewing terrace for the breathtaking views of Tiergarten, the dome and the mirror cylinder at the centre.