The Reichstag – A Historic Masterpiece or a Modern Marvel?

After experiencing the famed Berlin nightlife was it a mistake to book an early morning tour at the Reichstag building?

Dragging ourselves out of bed at 8am on a rather bright Sunday morning should have been a pleasant experience. However, for anyone who has yet to experience a Saturday night out in Berlin, be warned, there is something here for everyone which means that the irksome humming in your head that generally comes with excessive drinking will probably come knocking whilst you are here.

Not to be fazed by this, we headed out after a hearty breakfast wandering up past the Berliner Dom, taking in Museum Island before strolling along Unter den Linden. There is something wonderful about this time of morning – it felt like we had the entire city to ourselves – clearly everyone else was still sleeping off the night before.

Top tip: For the photographers out there – if you want to achieve people-free photos you need to set your alarm and get up early.

Walking through the Brandenburg Tor and turning left we got our first glimpse of the glass cupola of the Reichstag; it should have looked completely out of place hidden amongst the mundane concrete facades but it had the opposite effect – it complemented the ever-changing skyline.

Completed in 1999 the dome, designed by Lord Norman Foster, is a very modern twist to add to such a traditional landmark. The original building, designed in 1894 by Paul Wallot, is a magnificent example of restored neo-baroque architecture standing in well-tended gardens. When you look back at the history of this building its surprising that it still stands today – after all how many buildings would have survived the fire that hit it in 1933, a bomb attack during WWII and then being left to crumble during the Cold War. It was only after the collapse of the Berlin Wall that any repair work truly took place – so to be able to stand and marvel at this great structure today is quite an achievement.

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The front of the Reichstag Building

Visiting the Reichstag is free although I advise you to book in advance (www.bundestag.de) this way, other than the ten minutes it took us to get through security, there was not a queue in sight. Those that do not book in advance have to queue up across the road and wait for availability. Now, I have already mentioned that we visited on a Sunday morning before many people had ventured out – that is because they were either sleeping or were already queuing for tickets; at 9am the wait time was roughly an hour – take my advice and book in advance.

Top Tip: Book in advance online and make sure you turn up 15 minutes ahead of time to get through security. The security is extremely tight so be prepared to have your bags thoroughly searched.

We were escorted from security through to a lift that takes you up to the roof. When reaching the rooftop there will be a crushing rush for the information desk. Whatever you do don’t miss this out, join in the frenzied pushing until you reach the front – queuing doesn’t work here and if you naively think that you will wait until everyone else has finished, you will be dismayed to hear that another lift load of people are about to join you – this is where you receive you audio guide (available in ten languages), which is extremely worthwhile and comes complimentary with the tour.

Out on the rooftop terrace the air is fresh and the crowded, oppressive feeling I had inside has vanished. The hordes of people have melted away and we were left with undisturbed views across the city. Looking in one direction I could pick out Friedrichstraβe Station, the TV Tower and the Berliner Dom. Turn slightly and I look back across to the Brandenburg Tor, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews and the now rather modern Potsdamer Platz. In the other direction instead of skyscrapers and cranes (there appears to be a great deal of work going on around the city) I see an abundance of leafy green foliage: the Tiergarten stretches as far as the eye can see and on a warm Sunday morning looks so inviting.

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Views across the city of Berlin

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Views back toward the Brandenburg Tor

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Views towards the Tiergarten

The glass dome is even more striking at eye level. Perched high above the city it stands as a visual representation of what the current government stands for: transparency in politics. Once inside and you are naturally attracted to the mirrored cone in the centre: hundreds of rectangular mirrors reflecting the images of others as they traverse the circumference of the dome.

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The Reichstag Dome

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Mirrored Cone inside the Dome

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This is also where the audio starts; an intuitive little system that starts and stops with you meaning that what you see is what is being discussed at that moment in your ear. It takes about twenty minutes to reach the top of the glass ‘greenhouse’ which maybe something to bear in mind because when the sun grows in intensity so does the heat in this transparent bubble. When you reach the top take a moment to appreciate the stunning views and the fresh air that flows freely once again through the gaping hole that has been created in the top of the dome before embarking on the journey back down.

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We completed the self-guided tour which gives you a brief albeit sufficient insight into the history and workings of the German Parliament (the Bundestag). Should you wish to undertake a guided tour these are available and you will not only have the ability to wander around the dome and the terrace but you will also get to explore the Plenary Hall and for anyone interested in politics seminars and lectures are also frequently opened up to the public.

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Me outside the Reichstag Dome

There is a café on the roof terrace should you be in need of light refreshments although we opted to head back down to enjoy the Tiergarten and its surroundings. We didn’t have to walk far before we stumbled upon a café where we could sit outside, enjoy brunch and watch the local wildlife including a couple of red squirrels.

In terms of my question – is it a historical masterpiece or a modern marvel?  On this occasion, whilst there are clear divides, I think it is one of the few buildings where old and new work in harmony together – but I would be interested to hear your views on this.

Has anyone else been to the Reichstag?

Has anyone completed a guided tour and visited the Plenary Hall?  We would love to hear your thoughts.

11 Comments

  • Wow! I’m adding this to my Berlin #MustSee List! Thank you for the beautiful overview and pictures. How much time should I allot for this visit? I only have two days available for sightseeing so I want to make the best of them. Oh and about the night of partying you mentioned, do you have recommendations on fun bars or hangouts in the evening? I won’t be able to do much late late night but do want to see Berlin nightlife. Thanks so much for sharing your insight.

    • Hi Christina,

      We spent about two hours at the Reichstag. My suggestion would be to book online ahead of time and you will be able to wander straight in, if not a queue could eat into several hours. There are also many walking tours that are available to see the sights of the city. We utilised the free tour from Sandemans (they run daily from the Starbucks near the Brandenburg Gate) to give us a brief insight into the city and then from there we returned to parts that we wanted to see in more depth. If you enjoy views I would also see about heading up the Fernsehturm (TV tower). As for nightlife, when are you visiting? In the summer months there are several bars occupying the river side next to the Berliner Dom (they are there in the winter as well but might be a bit chilly) we also spent so0me time around Hackescher Markt in the centre of Mitte where there were several bars open until the early hours. We were only there for a few days ourselves so didn’t really get to explore much more but would love to go back. If you want more advice on where to eat and explore at night it might be worthwhile contacting Dale and Franca at AngloItalian, Follow Us (http://www.angloitalianfollowus.com/) who I know have spent a great deal of time there recently. 🙂

  • oh what lovely photos! I’ve been to Berlin several times, but have only marveled at this building from the outside. I may have to go in next time, although I know I won’t get photos as marvelous as yours! 😀 But still, to see it with my own eyes will be enough.

    • Hi Dana, thank you for your lovely comments about the photography. I have to confess that all credit needs to go to Paul for these shots – he definitely has an eye for the details. It is a wonderful building to visit and I love the fact that you can wander around at your own pace – I would highly recommend booking in advance though to save queuing.

  • For some reason Reichstag is one of our most favourite places in Berlin! Great post!

    • Thanks Illia. This was our first visit to Berlin and we were amazed at how much we instantly loved the city. I agree that there is something about the Reichstag that makes it stand out, maybe its the fact that when you wander up the grounds in front of the building you come face to face with this grandiose facade and then you go up in a lift and find yourself in this modern expanse of glass and mirrors – such a contrast, but it works!

  • Bob R says:

    I’ve been on and around these grounds several times but have never gone in. Now that I’ve seen the cone I’ll have to to check it out next time. Some nice shots.

  • Great tour, thanks. Haven’t been there but it has certainly been the site of a great deal of history that has impacted the world. –Curt

  • Erin says:

    This is really an excellent post. I couldn’t help having sympathy pains for the pounding you probably had in your head but, girl, those photos are KILLER! Well worth getting up early. Super super impressed. I’m Stumbling this 🙂

    • Thanks for your kind comments Erin! The fresh air definitely helped with the sore heads along with the copious amount of street food we seemed to consume that day! 🙂 I would love to take credit for the photos but these are definitely down to Paul on this occasion, he is definitely the master behind the camera whilst I just play at it! Thanks for the Stumble! 🙂

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