Berlin’s 2nd most famous landmark behind the nearby Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag has a short yet turbulent history. It was built as the meeting place for the German Empire, became famous for its role in the rise of Hitler, sat dormant during the Cold War, and finally rising again to become the the symbol of German democracy, The Reichstag is emblematic of Germany’s fluctuation between prosperity and hardship.
The Reichstag was built to house the Imperial Diet or Parliament which managed the 26 territories that made up the German Empire, which came together in 1871. Opening in 1894, The Reichstag was cutting edge for its time with amenities including central heating, telephones, running water, and its own on site power station for electricity. The German Empire lasted between 1871 and 1918, when Germany became a republic and the Weimar Republic was formed. The Weimar Republic lasted a short 15 years.
The Reichstag played a pivotal role to the rise of the Nazi party. One month after Adolf Hitler became chancellor in 1933, a mysterious fire severely damaged the Reichstag. In a moment of fear, The Reichstag Fire Decree was signed which gave the new chancellor broad and extraordinary power to stifle the supposed communist plot to overthrow the government. Hitler used the decree to crush all opponents to the Nazi party and eventually plunge Germany and all of Europe into a second World War.
During the Nazi era, there was no need for a parliament and the building sat vacant. It was bombed out during World War II and sat in ruins for years after. During the Cold War it was located in West Berlin, near the Berlin wall. West Germany’s parliament met in Bonn, so the building continued to be vacant during the Cold War. During the 1960’s however, the building was restored, but the famous copula was demolished due to bomb damage.
The crumbling of the Berlin Wall saw the reunification of Germany. There was much discussion on where the seat of government power would be located. Many wanted to keep it in Bonn, looking at Berlin’s tumultuous history, especially during the Nazi era as a bad symbol of the newly unified Germany. In the end, Berlin squeaked out as the winner of German government headquarters and the Reichstag would once again become the home of Germany’s legislature.
The reconstruction of the Reichstag soon began. The interior was gutted and a new modern building was constructed around the historic outer walls. A glass dome was added to pay homage to original copula design. The building re-opened in 1999. Today the German Bundestag or federal assembly meets and governs the country from this and surrounding buildings.
The Reichstag Today
The building is now open to the public and thanks to the impressive glass dome has become a popular tourist attraction. Tickets are free but you must register in advance to guarantee entrance. If you do not register in advance you may to go the visitors center outside the building to get on the waiting list, but admission is not assured. You may take a guided tour of the building followed by visiting the dome or you can tour the dome only.
Your visit begins at the visitor center where you check in and go through security screening. After waiting for your designated time, you are escorted into the building. The preserved exterior with the famous Dem deutschen Volke (To the German People) is inscribed above the entrance. The guided tour of the building includes a detailed oral history along with being able to view the main hall where parliament meets. The guided tour lasts 90 minutes followed by access to the dome. If you chose to tour the glass dome only an elevator takes you to the entrance on the dome where you pick up your audio guide and begin your ascent up the dome. You may stay as long as you would like and the dome tour is unguided.
The dome has a ramp that winds all the way to the top and provides terrific views of Berlin in all directions. The dome not only has great views outside the building’s but the dome looks inward directly on parliament as a symbolic watchful eye.
While the building’s history brings plenty of visitors, for many the views from the dome are the primary reason for visiting. Located right in the heart of Berlin, many of the cities most famous landmarks are nearby. In addition to the glass dome, you may walk out onto the roof of the building to get the perfect shot.
For many tourists the Reichstag is a free observatory to get some great shots of Berlin. For a richer experience, take the time to learn the history of the building and the city. Berlin has had a roller coaster history of tremendous highs and lows. No landmark further epitomizes this more than the Reichstag.
Visiting the Reichstag
The Reichstag is located in the heart of Berlin. It is easily accessible from Metro Stations Bundestag or Brandenburger Tor. Opening hours are 8:00 AM to midnight daily with last admission at 10:00 PM. For more information or to reserve your tickets click here.