As one of Berlin’s most recognizable buildings, the German Reichstag (or parliament) is a popular stop on many a Berlin itinerary. However, despite its popularity, many people opt to take in only the building’s exterior without venturing inside – a fact made even more surprising considering tours are free.
|The newly remodeled facade of the Reichstag|
Completely free attractions, especially of this calibre, are a rarity for travelers in Europe; however, in this situation it’s true – with only one small catch. Visitors must register ahead of time (two weeks or more in advance, to be safe – however it only took us a couple days in the low-season) and provide passport information as well as three date/time preferences. If all checks out and you are deemed fit to visit, you will receive emailed confirmation confirming the time of your visit.
The parliament was in session during our time in Berlin, and therefore our tour was scheduled for the evening after the politicians had taken off for the night. After a quick security screening (like the airport but much more efficient), we joined the tour group and our guide.
|The “fat chicken” in the plenary chamber|
|Lots of art brightens up the building|
What can we say about our guide…a typically “German” German with a (hilarious) dry sense of humour and a seemingly boundless amount of knowledge of the history of the building and the German government. The tour lasted just over an hour and we saw meeting rooms, meditation rooms, the plenary chamber, remnants of the old structure, the tunnel that the arsonist that burnt it down may have entered from, and tons and tons of art. Oh, and Travis got to sit in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s seat in the meeting room of the CDU/CSU party (sorry no picture – we had to be quick in there).
The architecture of the building itself is stunning. The redesign by Norman Foster, built within the shell of the previous building, is a brilliant combination of old and new. Many original walls, including one with graffiti left by Russian soldiers, are intermixed with modern and functional new aspects of the building.
|The famous graffiti left by Russian soldiers|
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the Reichstag building is the abundance of art on display. The German government is obliged to spend a certain percentage (2% on average) of revenues on the arts each year, and this is represented by over 30 beautiful pieces scattered throughout the building. From sculpture to modern art, all of the pieces have intricate and deep meaning and our guide’s explanation of what they were meant to convey just added to the tour.
|A wall of metal boxes for each of the members of government murdered since the start of the war|
The guided section of the tour ended at the entrance to the famous glass dome of the Reichstag building. While our guide made his way back downstairs, we were given audioguides and allowed to wander the dome for as long as we wanted. The (typically German) audioguides sensed where you were on the walk up the spiraling ramp to the top and back down and told you relevant information about your view across the city from that particular vantage point.
|The beautiful glass dome|
|Looking down into the plenary chamber|
The quote of the day came from our guide when, after warning us to watch our step in a tricky area of the meeting room, one of the participants (not watching their step) fell superbly onto their backside, to which he responded “I told you to watch that step…JESUS CHRIST!”