Reichstag dome

Reichstag Dome, Berlin, Germany

I learnt the hard way that if you want a ticket to the Reichstag Dome you need to be up with the lark.  I don’t go on holiday to stand in a queue in the midday sun, but I was able to walk straight into the ticket office at breakfast-time.

The Reichstag building can legitimately be called an icon. 

Opened in 1894 to house the Imperial Diet of the German Empire, which itself had been established in 1871, it remained the seat of government through the post-World War I Weimar Republic until it was infamously and mysteriously burnt out in 1933.

This was the act that enabled the Nazi Party to extinguish, very quickly, all semblance of democracy in Germany.  They had no use for a symbol of representative government, and arranged occasional perfunctory meetings of the Diet in the Kroll Opera House nearby:,_Berlin,_Reichstagssitzung,_Rede_Adolf_Hitler.jpg.

In the race to occupy Berlin in May 1945, the Red Army made the Reichstag ruins their goal, memorialised by the famous photograph ‘Raising a Flag over the Reichstag’:

Though the Reichstag ruins stood in the British zone of West Berlin, the boundary with the Soviet sector was a few feet from the rear.  The shell was reconstructed, shorn of its cupola and stripped of decorative features that recalled German Imperial bombast, between 1961 and 1964, and used as an office block until after the reunification of East and West Germany, which was confirmed in a ceremony at the Reichstag in 1990.

A year later, the decision was taken to relocate the former West German government from Bonn to Berlin and to restore the Reichstag as the base for the Bundestag, the present-day Diet.

The British architect Norman Foster won the competition to convert the building in 1992.  He restored much of the vanished exterior decoration, and added an elegant glass dome in place of the cupola.  The structure within the external walls is almost entirely new, and the dome is a superlative tourist experience, the second most popular visitor attraction in Germany after Cologne Cathedral.

After an inevitable passport check and baggage inspection, visitors are whisked in a lift to the roof.  They don’t get a look at Norman Foster’s modern interior inside the surviving nineteenth-century shell of the building.  They are presented with audio-guides that automatically start the moment they enter the dome.

The tour involves walking up a spiral ramp to the very top of the dome and then returning down a second ramp.  The arrangement affords spectacular views outwards and inwards, but is not particularly friendly to vertigo sufferers.

The English commentary is consummately professional – not a word out of place, with pauses at appropriate points and breaks in continuity that allow a sense of not being rushed.

Nearby, between the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate, are two profoundly moving sites, the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism, a black pool symbolising the evil deeds it commemorates, with a triangular stone in the centre, representing the badges that the Nazis’ victims were required to wear. 

In the northern pavilion of the Brandenburg Gate itself I found the Raum der Stille [Silent Room], suggested by Dag Hammarskjöld’s earlier room in the United Nations Headquarters in New York City – a simple and effective opportunity to withdraw from the hubbub of the city for a while:  

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