Post 3: Significance and Uniqueness of Reichstag Building

Significance of the Reichstag Building

The Reichstag building has played an extremely significant role in German history, and it has continued playing a significant role in the everyday life of German citizens. As discussed in detail in the previous two blog posts, the infamous fire at the Reichstag was important because it gave the National Socialist Party and Adolf Hitler the opportunity to take total control of the government by blaming the communists in parliament and inspiring hatred and fear among Germany’s people. Once in control of the government, the Nazis were able to carry out their atrocious acts of violence and racism throughout Europe, ultimately leading to World War II.

Although the Reichstag fire is perhaps the most well-known historical event that occurred at the building, there are other events that are important to the history of Germany and Berlin in particular. For example, nearing the end of the war in 1945, the Soviet army was advancing on the city of Berlin. On April 29, the Soviets began fighting for control of the Reichstag building. For the Soviets, the parliamentary building represented the birth of the Nazi dictatorship, so they saw it as a very important location to capture. On May 2, the Soviets finally overpowered the Nazis and took complete control of the Reichstag. After capturing the building, hundreds of Soviet soldiers wrote their signatures on the walls, and a group of four soldiers hoisted a red flag to the top of the building. At that time, these actions were representative of Soviet victory and pride. Today, the signatures and photo of the red flag being raised (pictured below) both symbolize the end of the Nazi dictatorship for the Germans, which is very significant to Germany’s national identity and its current democratic government.


The Reichstag building has, in addition to its historical significance, much current significance because it houses the German parliament called the Bundestag. The Bundestag is very important because it is the only federal institution in which members are elected directly by the citizens of Germany. The Bundestag has numerous crucial responsibilities and tasks, such as acting as a legislative body. In this role, the Bundestag is the only legislative body that can make laws that all the people of Germany have to obey, therefore exhibiting a broader significance on the entire country. Another role of the national parliament is electing the Chancellor, who has a lot of power in the government and determines policy guidelines in addition to suggesting candidates for office. The final major role of the Bundestag is to scrutinize the government, which includes determining the budget and any other government policies that are either proposed or already in place. All in all, the Bundestag is without a doubt crucial to the representation and well-being of the German citizens.

Uniqueness of the Reichstag Building

The Reichstag building has many unique features that allow it to stand out from other parliamentary buildings. When we visited the Reichstag, the first unique feature that we noticed was the large plenary chamber, featuring 631 blue seats organized in a semi- circular fashion around the chair for the president of the Bundestag. In the back of the plenary chamber is the large Bundestag eagle with his head to the side, weighing two and a half tons, hanging from only two cables. The eagle represents the Federal Republic of Germany. The plenary chamber is also unique because the seats are divided amongst the four parties elected into parliament. Currently, these parties (from right to left) are The Christian Democratic Union (310 seats), The Green Party (63 seats), the Social Democratic Party (193 seats), and The Left Party (64 seats). Additionally, members of parliament vote on bills in the plenary chamber in several different ways – standing up, raising hands or the Hammelsprung system. The Hammelsprung system is used when the results of the previous methods such as standing up or raising hands is unclear. In this case, everyone must leave the chamber and re-enter through one of three doors to cast their vote – Ja, nein, or Enthaltung (abstention). Above the members of parliament is a viewing gallery with 430 seats for visitors, journalists and official government guests. A photo of the plenary chamber is shown below.

Another unique feature in the Reichstag is the reflection and prayer room. This room accommodates all of the beliefs of the members of parliament: Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Atheist. There is a stone raised section identifying the east of the room allowing members to turn 90 degrees to face Mecca and Jerusalem which are towards the south. There is a cross on a table at the front of the room for members of the christian religion. Atheist members can simply put away the cross and use the room for reflection. Below is a photograph of the room.

The Reichstag building is also environmentally friendly. It has a cone shaped funnel that extends from the glass dome to the plenary chamber (pictured below). The funnel reflects daylight into the chamber with 360 angled mirrors. It also lets waste air exit the chamber as fresh air enters it. The energy from the waste air is used to heat the building. The south area of the roof has 300 square meters of solar panels which provide electricity for the building. They also have thermal power plants fueled by biodiesel.


Many other features of this building are also unique such as the rooftop restaurant, the memorial for murdered members of parliament and the archive for members of parliament. The Käfer Dachgarden-Restaurant, located at the top of the Reichstag, is the world’s only public restaurant in a parliament building. Furthermore, the basement of the Reichstag displays the Archive of German Members of Parliament, featuring 5,000 metal boxes of everyone elected between 1919 and 1999 when the renovated Reichstag was inaugurated. Infamous members including Adolf Hitler also have their own box, although it is frequently attacked by visitors. A single black box is shown to symbolize the years from 1933 to 1945 when Germany lacked a democratic parliament. In addition, near the southwest area of the Reichstag features a Memorial to the Murdered Members of Parliament. 96 broken tablets symbolize the members of the Weimar Republic who were sent to concentration camps and murdered by the National Socialists.

Personal Importance of the Reichstag Building
The Reichstag building interests us not only because it is one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks, but also because it is environmentally friendly. We believe that it is important to protect the environment, and it is imperative for the government to set an eco-friendly example for its citizens. In general, Germany appears to be a green country, recycling glass, paper and even paying customers for their recyclables such as water bottles. The Reichstag symbolizes the government’s commitment to the environment through the use of solar panels, biofuels and the cone which filters air while directing sunlight into the chamber. The biodiesel is extracted from rapeseed and allows the thermal power plants to meet 80 percent of the building’s energy requirements. As a matter of fact, the Bundestag approved a plan in 2008 to power the building with 100 percent renewable resources. In our next blog post we will continue discussing our personal interests in the Reichstag.

Sources of information and photos for this post can be found below, including books that we got from our Reichstag Building tour.


Red flag raising photo:

Reflection and prayer room photo:

Plenary chamber photo:

Reflecting mirror cone photo:


Facts: The Bundestag at a Glance

A Walk Round Parliament and its Buildings

History of the Reichstag Building

Early History of the Reichstag Building

The Reichstag’s first location in Berlin was in the Prussian House of Lords which is now home to the Bundesrat. The larger Reichstag needed a new home after the foundation of the German Empire on January 18, 1871, the end of the Franco-Prussian war. The current Reichstag building was originally designed by Paul Wallot and built for the Imperial diet of the German Empire. The construction of the Reichstag took ten years to complete, beginning in 1884 and finished on December 5, 1894. The building was paid for using 30 million Reichsmarks from the Franco-Prussian War reparations. It was the home of the Imperial Diet from 1894 to 1933. The Imperial Council was a bicameral legislature that consisted of the Reichstag and the Bundesrat. The Reichstag represented the people and the Bundesrat represented the 25 states until 1933.

Fire at the Reichstag Building

An important event in the history of the Reichstag building is the fire that engulfed it. On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building caught fire around 9:45 pm, and the fire quickly spread from the Assembly Hall to many other areas of the building. By the time firefighters had arrived on scene, the building was engulfed in flames, and significant damage was done before the fire could be controlled. After an investigation, it became obvious that the fire was intentionally set – separate fires were set in 5 different corners of the hall, ultimately combining to form the massive blaze. Below is a photograph that shows the extreme devastation the fire caused.

In order to fully understand why the fire was set and who set it, it is important to know the chaotic political situation in Germany in the early 1930s. At this time, Germany had a democratic government mandated by the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I; however, the largest party in the Reichstag in 1932 was the Nazi Party. The Nazi Party’s sudden emergence was a result of the terrible economic conditions that arose in the late 1920s: mass unemployment crippled and demoralized the working middle classes. Using anti-Semitic rhetoric and promising to revive the struggling economy, Adolf Hitler and his party quickly became extremely popular. Despite the party’s considerable size, it did not hold a majority of seats in the Reichstag in 1932, so it could not single handedly take control of the government yet.

Throughout the year 1932, there were numerous unsuccessful attempts by the Nazi Party at forming a new government to replace the democratic one that was in existence. On January 30, 1933, however, Germany’s President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany. This was exactly what the Nazi Party needed: it finally had a legitimate source of power in the German government. However, the Nazis were still looking for more ways to increase their power within government, and setting the Reichstag on fire helped them achieve this.

The Nazi’s Secret Plan

In the hours after the Reichstag burned, Adolf Hitler and the government claimed that they caught one of the men who set the fire – a communist from the Netherlands named Marinus van der Lubbe (pictured below at his trial). However, after World War II, it was discovered that the fire at the Reichstag may have been a setup by the Nazis (planned by Joseph Goebbels and Herman Goering) to frame the communist party in order to turn the population against the communists and unite under the Nazi Party. This setup was immediately successful, since Hitler blamed the communists for the fire and then ordered the communists of the parliament to be arrested. This ultimately removed the communist party from holding any power in Germany and turned the citizens against communism, leading the Nazi Party to become more powerful than ever. 

With no major opposing political party remaining, the Nazi Party controlled the parliament. About one month after the devastating fire, Hitler asked the Reichstag to transfer its powers to him, and now that Hitler had so much support, the Reichstag enthusiastically agreed and dissolved. This left the citizens of Germany without a representative parliament that could speak for their needs and desires, and turned Germany’s government into a dictatorship with Adolf Hitler in charge. The following year, the German citizens voted to allow Hitler to remain dictator of their country, with ninety percent of votes supporting the dictatorship. This was very significant because it revealed the great amount of support Hitler had among the Germans, but it also gave him the power that he would later abuse.


Note: The following websites were used as sources of information for this blog post:

Reichstag fire aftermath picture from

Marinus van der Lubbe photograph from


Introduction to the Reichstag


The Reichstag is the building where the German parliament, known as the Bundestag, holds its meetings. It is also one of the most visited parliaments in the world, and one of the top attractions in Germany.  Since its reconstruction, approximately 39 million people have visited the Reichstag. The modern Bundestag has held its meetings here since 1999, when restoration was finally finished to repair the damage caused by bombs during World War II. It was originally built in 1874 to function as the meeting place for the Imperial Diet, which was the German parliament from 1871 to 1918. In 1933, during the Nazi period, the building was set on fire. During the Cold War, the Reichstag was located in West Berlin; however, it was near the wall dividing the East and West. Perhaps as a result of this and the devastating damage caused to the Reichstag, West Germany established their seat of government in Bonn, the nation’s new capital. The building was used in 1990 for the German Reunification ceremony. Prior to this the building was periodically used for representative meetings and other random events. For example, Michael Jackson performed in front of the Reichstag with a crowd of 50,000 people during his tour in 1988. His performance was during the final day of a 3 day long rock festival in Berlin.

The Reichstag has a dome, rooftop garden, and garden restaurant that guests can visit for free daily from 8:00 AM to midnight with advanced registration. Guided tours of the Reichstag are also available when parliament is not sitting. The tours provide information about the history and architecture of the building as well as information about the parliament. When parliament is sitting you can watch a live Bundestag debate for one hour in the public gallery. The other day we walked by the Reichstag and saw about one hundred people excitedly awaiting their visit to learn about this building’s significance. Below is a picture I took of the Reichstag on May 13th.



The Reichstag is clearly a building with much historical significance, which will be discussed further in a later blog post. In addition, the Reichstag is undoubtedly significant in the present day because of its current function as the meeting place of the Bundestag, where important legislative decisions are made for the entire country. Members of the Bundestag are elected by the German citizens, and this is important because it gives the citizens control over the laws that they are required to follow. Furthermore, the Bundestag is significant because it has the power to create the federal budget and decide when to deploy armed forces to foreign countries.


-Alex Krasnoschlik and Katrina Henderson