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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.