Monday, June 18, 2012

The Reichstag

The main entrance of the Reichstag
We couldn’t start a section on architecture without writing about The Reichstag building, the second most visited attraction in Berlin and current home to the German Parliament or Bundestag. Original construction of this emblematic neo-renaissance building finished in 1894. Designed by architect, Paul Wallot, it has been a silent witness to German history over the years and suffered severely, like so many other Berlin buildings, from the bombardments of the Second World War.

View of Berlin from the roof terrace
The reconstructed building work lead by Norman Foster in the 90’s renovated the old and damaged building by adding editions, including the famous glass roof dome. Who wouldn’t want to stand in a place where so many major events of history have happened, and where personalities as diverse as Hitler and Michael Jackson have stood? (Jacko performed a concert there in 1988) In all, The Reichstag is well worth a closer look.

The famous roof dome
We visited The Reichstag building on a sunny but windy afternoon in May. It was very interesting to be in this building for a while to enjoy its architecture, as well as to take in the great views of the city from the roof dome terrace. After the Second World War the building stood unused and empty with only a partial renovation in the 60’s. It wasn’t until 1990 when the second full renovation by Norman Foster’s team started. It was re-opened in 1999 when The Reichstag became a functional building once again and the famous glass dome took its place as an iconic modern feature of the city's skyline. An interesting note is that the conceptual artist, Christo, wrapped the whole building in plastic in 1994 before renovation was completely finished. I would have liked to have been one of the millions of visitors to see that!

The rotating blind
In my opinion Norman Foster did a great job balancing the new against the old. The modern additions don’t distract from the personality of the original building but they do bring it into the 21st century with the addition of energy-saving design elements, making the whole building more environmentally friendly. The new design reduces the annual CO2 emissions by more than 6,000 tons and parts of the building actually absorb energy and reuse it. The glass dome has many energy saving features. The glass panels, for example, absorbs the heat from outside and the huge rotating blind attached to the middle column rotates in line with the direction of the sun, maintaining a comfortable interior temperature by stopping direct sunlight heating up the glass room too much. The circular hole in the very top of the dome helps the hot air escape and amazingly, when rain or snow enter, the dome doesn't flood! Instead the water is recycled and reused.

The hole in the center of the dome
As a visitor, you follow the circular pathways around the edge of the dome that gradually take you up to the top and back. The details of the design and some of the sights seen of the city are highlighted by the very complete free audio guide, which automatically narrates your trip as you wander up and around the dome. All in all, a visit to the dome makes a very interesting morning or afternoon trip in Berlin.

It’s true that Germans are famous for being very organised but we got a glimpse of just how seriously they take organisation at the end of the tour as we were hearded to the exit. Navigating the automatic main doors was a little tricky as there is a double door system, kind of like an airlock, as the outside door could not be opened until the inside door was closed and the space between full of escaping tourists. There was much confusion as people kept standing in the way of the closing door! We assume this systems is for energy saving reasons so 10 points there for good design! We were also told off for standing on the wrong part of the pavement and for lingering around a few seconds too long on the out-of-bounds pathway to snap the last photo before leaving!

Reichstag tours are free but by appointment only so it is essential to book ahead. If you are only planning a short trip to Berlin make sure you book with at least a week’s notice so you can choose the right date and time for you.

You can pre-book a visit through The Reichstag website.

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