Reichstag building

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Reichstag building Berlin view from west before sunset.jpg
The dedication Dem deutschen Volke, meaning To the German people, can be seen on the frieze.
General information
AddressPlatz der Republik 1, 11011 Berlin
Town or cityBerlin
Coordinates52°31′07″N 13°22′34″E / 52.51861°N 13.37611°E / 52.51861; 13.37611Coordinates: 52°31′07″N 13°22′34″E / 52.51861°N 13.37611°E / 52.51861; 13.37611
Current tenantsBundestag
Construction started9 June 1884
Renovated1961–1964, 1992–1999
Height47 m (154 ft)
Technical details
Floor count6
Floor area61,166 m2 (658,390 sq ft)[1]
Design and construction
Architect(s)Paul Wallot
Renovating team
Architect(s)Norman Foster

The Reichstag (German: Reichstag, pronounced [ˈʁaɪçsˌtaːk] (listen); officially: Deutscher BundestagReichstagsgebäude [ˈʁaɪçstaːksɡəˌbɔʏdə] (listen); English: Parliament) is a historic government building in Berlin which houses the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany's parliament.

It was constructed to house the Imperial Diet (German: Reichstag) of the German Empire. It was opened in 1894 and housed the Diet until 1933, when it was set on fire.

In World War II, during the Battle of Berlin, the building was severely damaged by the Soviet Red Army. After the War, the building fell into disuse; the parliament of the German Democratic Republic (the Volkskammer) met in the Palast der Republik in East Berlin, while the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany (the Bundestag) met in the Bundeshaus in Bonn.

The ruined building was made safe against the elements and partially refurbished in the 1960s, but no attempt at full restoration was made until after German reunification on 3 October 1990, when it underwent a reconstruction led by architect Norman Foster. After its completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the contemporary Bundestag.


The term Reichstag, when used to connote a diet, dates back to the Holy Roman Empire. The building was built for the Diet of the German Empire, which was succeeded by the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. The latter would become the Reichstag of Nazi Germany, which left the building (and ceased to act as a parliament) after the 1933 fire and never returned, using the Kroll Opera House instead; the term Reichstag has not been used by German parliaments since World War II. In today's usage, the word Reichstag (Imperial Diet) refers mainly to the building, while Bundestag (Federal Diet) refers to the institution.

History of the building[edit]

The Königsplatz with the Raczyński Palace in 1880 (Brandenburg Gate on the right)
The Reichstag building with the Victory Column on the Königsplatz, c. 1900
Reichstag building, constitution celebration, 11 August 1932

Imperial and Weimar Republic eras[edit]

The Reichstag building in 1870.

Construction of the building began well after the unification of Germany in 1871. Starting in 1871, and for the next 23 years, the parliament met in the former property of the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin, at Leipziger Straße 4. In 1872 an architectural contest with 103 participating architects was carried out to erect a new building, a contest won by Ludwig Bohnstedt. The plan incorporated the Königsplatz (today's Platz der Republik), which was then occupied by the palace of a Polish-Prussian aristocrat, Athanasius Raczyński. Unfortunately, that property was unavailable at the time.[2]

Memorial Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, architectural inspiration for the original Reichstag Building

In 1882, another architectural contest was held, with 200 architects participating. This time, the winner—the Frankfurt architect Paul Wallot—would actually see his Neo-Baroque project executed. The direct model for Wallot's design was Philadelphia's Memorial Hall, the main building of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.[3] Wallot adorned the building's façade with crowns and eagles symbolising imperial strength. The building's four corner towers represented the four German kingdoms at unification, Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg, and the heraldic coat of arms of each kingdom, as well as smaller devices representing various German city-states, flanked the main entrance, celebrating the process of unification.[4] Some of the Reichstag's decorative sculptures, reliefs, and inscriptions were by sculptor Otto Lessing.

On 29 June 1884, the foundation stone was finally laid by Wilhelm I, at the east side of the Königsplatz. Before construction was completed by Philipp Holzmann A.G. in 1894,[5] Wilhelm I died (in 1888, the Year of Three Emperors). His eventual successor, Wilhelm II, took a more jaundiced view of parliamentary democracy than his grandfather. The original building was acclaimed for the construction of an original cupola of steel and glass, considered an engineering feat at the time. But its mixture of architectural styles drew widespread criticism.[6]

In 1916 the iconic words Dem deutschen Volke ("To the German People") were placed above the main façade of the building, much to the displeasure of Wilhelm II, who had tried to block the adding of the inscription for its democratic significance. After World War I had ended and Wilhelm had abdicated, during the revolutionary days of 1918, Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the institution of a republic from one of the balconies of the Reichstag building on 9 November. The building continued to be the seat of the parliament of the Weimar Republic (1919–1933), which was still called the Reichstag. Up to 42 protesters died during the Reichstag Bloodbath of 13 January 1920, when workers tried to protest a law that would restrict their rights; it was the bloodiest demonstration in German history.[7][8][9]

Nazi period[edit]

1970 DDR stamp depicting raising a flag over the Reichstag.
Graffiti left by Red Army soldiers in the Reichstag, mentioning Bashkiria and Oryol.

Following the Reichstag fire on 27 February 1933, the building was not used for parliamentary sessions for the next 12 years of Nazi rule. Instead, the nearby Kroll Opera House was used, and the Reichstag building became the setting for political exhibitions. In 1939 the library and archive were moved elsewhere, and the windows bricked up as the building was made into a fortress. By 1943, the building was used as a hospital, and a radio tube manufacturing facility by AEG. During the Battle of Berlin in 1945, it became one of the central targets for the Red Army to capture, due to its perceived symbolic significance.[2]: 121–138 

The Reichstag on fire (27 February 1933)
Reichstag in postwar occupied Berlin, 3 June 1945

Cold War[edit]

When the Cold War emerged, the building was physically within West Berlin, but in ruins. During the Berlin blockade, an enormous number of West Berliners assembled before the building on 9 September 1948, and Mayor Ernst Reuter held a famous speech that ended with "Ihr Völker der Welt... schaut auf diese Stadt..." ("You people of the world...look upon this city...").[2]: 139–148 

Reichstag building in 1970, before reconstruction of the dome.

In 1956, after some debate, the West German government decided that the Reichstag should not be torn down, but be restored instead under the guidance of Paul Baumgarten. The cupola of the original building, which had also been heavily damaged in the war, was dismantled, and the outside façade made simpler with the removal of ornaments and statues. Reconstruction started in 1961, and was complete by 1971.[2]: 158–169 

The artistic and practical value of his work was the subject of much debate after German reunification. Under the 1971 Four Power Agreement on Berlin, Berlin was formally outside the bounds of either East or West Germany, and so the West German parliament, the Bundestag, was not allowed to assemble formally in West Berlin. This prohibition was obeyed even though East Germany had declared East Berlin its capital, violating this provision. Until 1990, the building was thus used only for occasional representative meetings, and one-off events, such as a free concert given by British rock band Barclay James Harvest on 30 August 1980.[10] It was also used for a widely lauded permanent exhibition about German history called Fragen an die deutsche Geschichte ("Questions on German history").


The Wrapping before the Reconstruction on 6 July 1995
Reconstruction in August 1998

The official German reunification ceremony on 3 October 1990, was held at the Reichstag building, including Chancellor Helmut Kohl, President Richard von Weizsäcker, former Chancellor Willy Brandt and many others. The event included huge firework displays.[11] The following day the parliament of the united Germany assembled as a symbolic act in the Reichstag building.[11]

However, at that time, the role of Berlin had not yet been decided upon. Only after a fierce debate, considered by many as one of the most memorable sessions of parliament, on 20 June 1991, did the Bundestag conclude with quite a slim majority in favour of both government and parliament returning to Berlin from Bonn. On 21 June 1994, Norman Foster was asked to include a dome solution in his draft reconstruction proposal, which he included in his 10 February 1995 plans.[2]: 185, 197 

Reichstag building in 2017

Before reconstruction began, the Reichstag was wrapped by the Bulgarian-American artists Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude in 1995, attracting millions of visitors.[12] The project was financed by the artists through the sale of preparatory drawings and collages, as well as early works of the 1950s and 1960s.

During the reconstruction, the building was first almost completely gutted, taking out everything except the outer walls, including all changes made by Baumgarten in the 1960s. Respect for the historic aspects of the building was one of the conditions stipulated to the architects, so traces of historical events were to be retained in a visible state. Among them were bullet holes and graffiti left by Soviet soldiers after the final battle for Berlin in April–May 1945. However, graffiti considered offensive was removed, in agreement with Russian diplomats at the time.[2]: 203–205 

Reconstruction was completed in 1999, with the Bundestag convening there officially for the first time on 19 April of that year.[13] The Reichstag is now the second most visited attraction in Germany, not least because of the huge glass dome that was erected on the roof as a gesture to the original 1894 cupola, giving an impressive view over the city, especially at night.

Reichstag building seen from the former Königsplatz at night


Rear of the Reichstag as seen at night from across the Spree

The large glass dome at the very top of the Reichstag has a 360-degree view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape. The main hall (debating chamber) of the parliament below can also be seen from inside the dome, and natural light from above radiates down to the parliament floor. A large sun shield tracks the movement of the sun electronically and blocks direct sunlight which would not only cause large solar gain, but dazzle those below. Construction work was finished in 1999 and the seat of parliament was transferred to the Bundestag in April of that year. The dome is open to visitors by prior registration.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Reichstag, New German Parliament | Foster + Partners". Archived from the original on 30 October 2019. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Cullen, Michael (2015). Der Reichstag: Symbol Deutscher Geschichte (in German). Berlin: be.bra. pp. 17–25. ISBN 9783898091145.
  3. ^ Filler, Martin, Makers of Modern Architecture, Volume 1, New York: The New York Review of Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1-59017-227-8, p. 226
  4. ^ Barnstone, Deborah Ascher (2004). The Transparent State: Architecture and Politics in Postwar Germany. London: Routledge. p. 181. ISBN 978-0415700191. Archived from the original on 21 May 2022. Retrieved 4 March 2021.
  5. ^ Schmid, John (24 November 1999). "Germany Fails in Effort To Keep Builder Afloat". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 March 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
  6. ^ David Clay Large, Berlin, New York: Basic Books, 2000, ISBN 978-0-465-02646-3, p. 59 Archived 10 June 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Liang 1970, p. 98.
  8. ^ Weipert 2012, p. 16.
  9. ^ Fisher 1948, p. 120.
  10. ^ "Barclay James Harvest Biography". Archived from the original on 27 July 2018. Retrieved 2 May 2020.
  11. ^ a b "Reunification Ceremony network by Televisión Española (in Spanish)". YouTube. Archived from the original on 24 June 2021. Retrieved 17 June 2021.
  12. ^ Church, Jok. "Wrapped Reichstag Berlin, 1971–95". Christo and Jeanne Claude. Archived from the original on 27 August 2007. Retrieved 25 June 2009.
  13. ^ Reichstag Archived 2 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine Berlin International
  14. ^ "Registering to visit the dome of the Reichstag Building" Archived 23 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 29 September 2011

External links[edit]