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: http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/iconic-images/raising-a-flag-over-the-reichstag-by-yevgeny-khaldei-iconic-photograph-13370
Reflection and prayer room photo: https://www.bundestag.de/htdocs_e/artandhistory/art/artists/uecker_inhalt/370238
Plenary chamber photo: https://www.bundestag.de/htdocs_e/artandhistory/history/parliamentarism/frg_track_record/frg_track_record/200330
Reflecting mirror cone photo: http://www.thepinnaclelist.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/007-The-Reichstag-Dome-%E2%80%93-A-Sculpture-of-Light-Above-Government-in-Berlin-Germany.jpg
Facts: The Bundestag at a Glance
A Walk Round Parliament and its Buildings