The Reichstag Building (German: Reichstagsgebäude; officially: Plenarbereich Reichstagsgebäude) is an historical edifice in Berlin, Germany, constructed to house the Reichstag, parliament of the German Empire. It was opened in 1894 and housed the Reichstag until 1933, when it was severely damaged in a fire. After World War II, the building fell into disuse; the parliament (Volkskammer) of the German Democratic Republic met in the Palast der Republik in East Berlin, while the parliament (Bundestag) of the Federal Republic of Germany 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 October 3, 1990, when it underwent a reconstruction led by internationally renowned architect Norman Foster. After its completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag.
History of the building
Construction of the building began well after the unification of Germany in 1871. Previously, the parliament had assembled in several other buildings in Leipziger Straße in Berlin but these were generally considered too small, so in 1872 an architectural contest with 103 participating architects was carried out to erect a new building. After a short survey of possible sites, a parliamentary committee recommended the east side of the Königsplatz (today, Platz der Republik), which however was occupied by the derelict palace of a Polish-Prussian aristsocrat, Athanasius Raczyński.
The building caught fire on 27 February 1933, under circumstances still not entirely known (see Reichstag fire). This gave a pretext for the Nazis to suspend most rights provided for by the 1919 Weimar Constitution in the Reichstag Fire Decree in an effort to weed out communists and increase state security throughout Germany.
When the Cold War emerged, the building was physically within West Berlin, but only a few metres from the border of East Berlin, which ran around the back of the building and in 1961 was closed by the Berlin Wall. 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 the call, Ihr Völker der Welt, schaut auf diese Stadt! (You peoples of the world, look upon this city!)
After the war, the building was essentially a ruin. In addition, there was no real use for it, since the capital of West Germany had been established in Bonn in 1949. Still, in 1956, after some debate, it was decided that the Reichstag should not be torn down, but be restored instead. However, the cupola of the original building, which had also been heavily damaged in the war, was demolished. Another architectural contest was held, and the winner, Paul Baumgarten, reconstructed the building from 1961–1964.
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. One day later, the parliament of the united Germany would assemble in an act of symbolism in the Reichstag building.
The large glass dome at the very top of the Reichstag has a 360-degree view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape. The main hall 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 no longer open to visitors without prior registration.