All of my classmates from school days had at least one trip to this landmark of German politics and history, except for me: I missed the trip to Berlin because I worked a three day shift in my old job as video store clerk. After seven years of living in the city, I finally made it! The Bundestag Berlin is super impressive and worth seeing on a rainy day for architecture, politics and art fans. I recommend signing up for a tour if you want to skip the queues in the front, but expect it to be always overcrowded.
What to expect at the Bundestag Berlin
The Bundestag is a historic symbol of German politics, but it’s also today the political center of the country. The German parliament meets here daily to discuss the agenda of the Bundesrepublik. Visiting the parliament sounds excruciatingly boring, but the Reichtstagsgebäude – that’s the name of the building – is definitely worth seeing (the “Bundestag”, our parliament, was known formerly as “Reichstag”, but Germans don’t like to say Reich anymore for obvious reasons).
Apart from its unique architectural features (we will get to that in a moment), the building is also decorated with contemporary art pieces, thus transforming a mere political location into a lively and exciting exhibition. Artists like Gerhard Richter and Katharina Sieverding are only two famous names on the walls of the Bundestag Berlin. If you’d rather not book a tour through the building – I completely understand, I’d also rather not share my photo opportunities with marauding hordes of teenagers and their selfie sticks – you can rent an audio guide for free in various languages, which I highly recommend! The Bundestag Berlin is only interesting if you actually know what you’re looking at (generally, this applies to all museums, exhibitions and landmarks).
The history of the Reichstagsgebäude
The Reichstagsgebäude in Berlin has had a very famous run as one of the most iconic buildings in world history. It was completed in 1894, then quickly rose to fame when it was set on fire in 1933 – the Reichstagsbrand that allowed Hitler to seize power in Germany. After WWII, the Soviets used the heavily damaged Reichstag as background setting for their propaganda: they re-enacted the capture of Berlin via photography. Before Berlin became the capital of Germany again, the Reichstag just kinda lay there for a while, like, around 30 years.
Finally, renovations of the Bundestag were set to begin in 1995, after the Wall came down, and the job was given to Foster + Partners, the architectural firm by famous Norman Foster. Just shortly before they began, the Reichstag was briefly also a monumental art piece by Christo and Jean-Claude, who wrapped the whole building in enormous strips of fabric.
The architecture of the Reichstagsgebäude after renovations
The general structure of what was left of the German Reichstag was to be preserved, which is why today, you can still see a very old building (with very old and preserved cyrillic graffiti!) with modernized elements. The futuristic dome was added to the winning architectural concept much later, when Foster had already created an intricate design of the new Reichstag, but the Germans really wanted their dome back.
Today, the dome of the Bundestag offers some of the most spectacular views over the city for visitors. The whole construction of the dome and in general, the new Bundestag, are impressive to see. The fusion of modern elements with the old structures symbolize clearly Berlins transformation during the past 100 years.
Visit the Bundestag without registration:
On a rainy or cold day, there’s nothing better than spontaneously hopping the 100 bus line and ending up at the Bundestag for a stroll. But as so often with German bureaucracy, there’s no such thing as “spontaneous” at the Reichstagsgebäude.
Nevertheless – if you would like to visit the Bundestag Berlin but have not booked in advance, you can register to do so at the service centre run by the Visitors’ Service near the Reichstag Building, next to the Berlin Pavilion on the south side of Scheidemannstraße. If any free places are still available, you will be issued a booking confirmation entitling you to visit the dome; but you have to be there two hours prior to your visit. So go and have a snack somewhere in Mitte while you wait for your spot.
Should you visit the Bundestag in Berlin?
I’m going to be honest here: if you’re visiting Berlin for a couple of days and you aren’t perversely into either architecture nor art, then let it rest. There are better things to do than waiting in line and fighting for the best photo spot with other tourists.
That said, you could do all the landmark-hopping (including the Bundestag Berlin) in one elaborate tour – there are many companies who offer these – in one day and get it over with quickly. When you sign up for a tour like this, even spontaneously, you don’t have to register in advance – they do the work for you (they already pre-book a daily contingent, which is why it’s sometimes smarter to go on a proper tour than by yourself).