The Reichstag Building is one of Berlin’s best known architectural landmarks. It has been at the center of political, cultural and military history of the 20th century and nowadays serves as the seat of the Bundestag, a constitutional and legislative body of Germany.
Designed in the Neo-Renaissance style by the German architect Paul Wallot, the Reichstag building was completed in 1894 following a lengthy period of land acquisition negotiations and disagreements as to how the construction should be carried out. It was home of the Imperial Diet of the German Empire until 1918, when following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the end of the German monarchy Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the Weimar Republic from a balcony of the Reichstag building. For the following 25 years the Reichstag housed the Parliament of the First German Republic until Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933.
The Reichstag suffered major damage and destruction during the 20th century. The still unexplained fire at the Reichstag on February 27, 1933, shortly after Hitler assumed chancellorship, triggered a series of events that led to Hitler’s assumption of dictatorial powers in Germany. The fire gave a pretext for the Nazis to suspend most rights provided under the 1919 Weimar Constitution in the Reichstag Fire Decree which served to weed out Communists and increase state security throughout Germany. The early days of the Reichstag as the seat of the German Parliament were over. The disused building which was never fully repaired since the fire suffered additional damage from Allied bombing during World War II. During the Battle of Berlin in 1945 it became the central target for the Red Army to capture due to its perceived symbolic significance.
After the war the building was essentially a ruin with the border separating East and West Berlin running a few meters around its back. With Bonn as the seat of West German government established in 1949, there was no real use for the Reichstag which led to its further deterioration in postwar years and the need to demolish the original dome in 1954. The restoration of 1961-1964 gave the building a new function as a venue for parliamentary committee meetings, albeit in a drab modern building stripped of its sumptuous decorations.
The most extensive restoration and renovation took place following the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990 and the decision to house the Parliament of unified Germany in the Reichstag. British architect Sir Norman Foster was commissioned to carry out this massive conversion project. The building’s huge glass dome was rebuilt and equipped with a unique mirror system which directs light inside the chamber during the day and reflects it back at night. An interior ramp spirals to the top of the dome affording excellent views of the surrounding city. After the restoration was complete, the Reichstag became one of Berlin’s most prominent tourist attractions on the “must see” list of millions of people around the world.