Germany’s parliament building, or Reichstag, is a must-see attraction in Berlin. With its motto, “To the German People,” it’s the symbolic heart of German democracy.
The Reichstag has a short yet dramatic history. When inaugurated in the 1890s, the new parliament building was dismissed by the emperor as a “chatting house for monkeys.” But at the end of World War I, the German Republic was proclaimed from here. Then, in 1933, a mysterious fire gutted the building, giving Chancellor Hitler a convenient opportunity to blame the communists for the blaze in order to consolidate his hold on power. As World War II drew to a close, the Nazis made their last stand here. Imagine: Desperate Germans fighting Russians on its rooftop. After 1945, the bombed-out building stood like a ghost through the Cold War. Then, with reunification, the parliament moved back to Berlin. This historic ruin was rebuilt with a modern element: a striking glass dome.
A walkway winds all the way to the top of that dome. A cone of mirrors reflects natural light into the legislative chamber far below. As you spiral up, survey the city. The views are marvelous.
But for Germans, mindful of their dark 20th-century history, the view that matters most is inward, looking down, literally over the shoulders of their legislators. The architecture comes with a poignant message: The people are determined keep a wary eye on their government.
We got great footage of the Reichstag, and this is one of the dimensions of the new Berlin that I’m thrilled to include in our new TV show on Berlin — the fastest-changing city in Europe. Stay tuned, as we have a dozen new shows coming to your public television station starting in about a month.
I’ve long marveled at the notion of German citizens keeping a symbolic eye on their government by climbing the dome and literally looking down over the shoulders of their legislators at work. This poster, which I photographed on my way out of the building, gave me the view I wished we had for our TV cameras.