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Reichstag

Reichstag (46)

Going to Berlin and not visiting the Reichstag is almost a sin. The tourists who queue up en masse every day to visit it know this all too well. But don’t worry, it is open from eight in the morning to ten at night. You can enter the building via a set of stairs and, as you would imagine, its security measures are strict.

The Reichstag is the headquarters of the German parliament. Nowadays it is a magnificent building, thanks to remodelling work carried out in 1999 and headed by the English architect Norman Foster. 

The construction of this building was a real odyssey. Before the Reichstag’s creation, the German Parliament held its sessions in other buildings of the city, however all of them were too small to hold all its members. So, in 1872 William I decided to hold a contest between more than one hundred architects to see whose design would end up being used for the new parliament building. Unfortunately, due to logistics problems and a lack of agreement this plan fell through.  

Ten years later, a new competition was organised which was won by the architect Paul Wallot. Work on his project was started in 1894. William I died and the building was finished during the reign of his heir, William II. The new king did not take to the Reichstag and liked even less what it stood for. He even made sure that its spectacular cupola was not one millimetre taller than the royal palace. 

In 1933, in the period between the wars, the Reichstag caught fire in circumstances that have never become clear. The Nazis accused the communists of starting it to boycott the German government and were made to pay dearly for it: The Nazis executed thousands of them and thus consolidated their power throughout the country.   

Once the Reichstag had been restored following the terrible fire, allied bombs during the Second World War caused the building further damage. Then, after liberating Berlin, Soviet troops raised the hammer and sickle flag on the top of the building. 

With the division of Berlin, the Reichstag found itself in the Western zone. The West’s capital became Bonn and it stopped being used, eventually ending up abandoned. 

After reunification, Berlin again became the German capital and the Reichstag had to be repaired quickly. A competition was again used to choose the best project design. The architect Norman Foster was the eventual winner, taking charge of the renovation work and designing the cupola of the impressive building you see today. 

What stands out most inside is the session’s hall, where German politicians gather every day. Light from outside illuminates this room by shining through the famous crystal cupola, with the help of a clever set of mirrors.

Because of this cupola’s importance, it is given its very own chapter, which you will hear in the next section.

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