Touring Berlin's Reichstag
Berlin’s Reichstag is a fascinating pairing of old and modern with layers of history, much like the city itself. It’s open for tours, but it’s best to sign up a few weeks in advance. Put in a bit of planning, and you’re in for a close-up look at Germany’s recent history. Completed in 1894, the Reichstag housed the government for decades. In 1933, a fire destroyed part of the building shortly after Hitler became Chancellor. He blamed others for the fire and closed the building, insisting this entitled him to grab more power for himself. Perhaps he engineered the blaze? To this day, no one knows. When Berlin was liberated in 1945, Russian troops rushed into the Reichstag because it symbolized Germany. Even though the building had been damaged in World War II, it was never repaired by the Soviet occupiers. It wasn’t until after the fall of the Wall and the Communists left the city that the new, unified German government moved into the Reichstag and the interior of the building was modernized.
Our tour guide, Roland, greeted us in the entryway, and off we went on for an inside look at the heart of Berlin. As soon as we entered, we noticed the design of gleaming steel, glass and light-colored stone. My favorite room was the library with its striking red sofas and walls full of books. The abstract artwork depicts the history of Germany. Can you find the yellow star worn by Jews during the Nazi era here?
The view from the deck outside the library is of the Spree River. The seven white crosses are a memorial to unlucky German soldiers who thought the river marked the line of the Berlin Wall here. Notice there is a blank cross, too. We saw several unfinished memorials like this in Berlin. Apparently, so many people died trying to cross from East to West that names of the missing are still being added.
Next, we took a stairway to the Archive of German Members of Parliament. Each Member of Parliament here (up to 1999, when the plaques were designed) has a memorial on the walls. Hitler had several members arrested (those who didn’t support him), and they didn’t survive. Their names are here, too. The updating of the Reichstag didn’t destroy all evidence of its past. Sections of the wall decorated with graffiti by Russian soldiers have been preserved.
On to the Parliament meeting room, which boasts about 600 blue chairs and a huge Bundestag eagle presiding over the room. I didn’t know we would be able to enter the Parliament area, so I was thrilled to be where members of the German government meet. We were there on a Sunday, but if you’re there during the week, you may be able to see Parliament in action.
The best comes last – the glass dome! Visible from far away, the dome is a marvel of architecture and efficiency. As we climbed our way up the circular structure, the views of Berlin were stunning. The lower end opens into Parliament (no secrets allowed!) and the top is open to the sky. The audio guide is free, and it’s really fun because it operates with GPS. As we wound up and down the ramps, we heard about what we were looking at. We could even look down at the iconic Brandenburg Gate!
Be sure to reserve your tour at least a month in advance. You can apply on the website for the date and time you want to visit. Then, wait to get an email approving your application. Security is tight, as you can imagine. No photos are allowed in the building where you check in, but once you’re inside the Reichstag, you can take all the pictures you want. The tour is free, and the audio guide is included. Daily opening hours are 8 a.m. to midnight. For more information, this publication by the German government provides lots of details about the Reichstag. If you’re in the Berlin area, do yourself a favor and tour the Reichstag!