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The Reichstag, source of controversy



Paul Wallot conceived the Reichstag building in the Italian high Renaissance style. Kaiser Wilhelm I. laid the foundation-stone on June 9, 1881. Bismarck in the back in a white uniform is watching the emperor knocking the hammer on the corner stone.


Wilhelm II. inaugurated the building in 1894. Its architecture was always controversially discussed. In 1898 the poet Frank Wedekind called the cupola a Bonbonnierendeckel (lid of a candy box) and neither the Berlin population nor the Kaiser loved the building. In allusion to the Berlin Zoo Wilhelm II. called it the Reichsaffenhaus (imperial ape house).


This photo taken in 1916 shows the Reichstag in its original state, with Bismarck's statue in front but the famous inscription  is still missing.


 During World War I Kaiser Wilhelm II. needed parliament to vote the war credits but consented only in 1915 that the above inscription should be fixed. It was eventually installed in 1916.


Bert Brecht wrote:


Zu Berlin im Jahre neunzehnhundert-dreiunddreißig stand
Dann an einem Montag abend des letzten Reichstags Haus in Brand.


 Until today the question who set fire to the Reichstag on February 28, 1933, is still debated but this question did not change the course of history. As an immediate consequence of the Reichstagsbrand the Nazis banned the Communist Party and started to suppress any other opposition.


In May 1945 a Russian soldier accompanied by a camera man hoisted the Red Flag on what was left of the building. The photo was taken two days later than the fall of Berlin.


Later the scene was even reproduced in color for propaganda purposes.


Another Russian fake. The bombers above the Reichstag and the tank in front were touched up afterwards.


In 1946 the Reichstag building indeed reflected Germany's fall. Theodor Plievier wrote:


Finis Germaniae!



This photo I took myself in 1956. The Reichstag is still in ruins. In the background you distinguish the Brandenburg Gate and the Red Flag implanted on its top.



The Reichstag building situated in West Berlin was partly reconstructed in the years 1957 to 1972 and used thereafter by the Federal Republic for parliamentary committee meetings. Plenary session of the Bundestag (Parliament) were stopped after they were disturbed by MIG fighter planes flying at low altitude over the building, the Russians thus enforcing the special political status of Berlin.


Following German reunification and the general election of an all German Bundestag (parliament) in autumn of 1990 the meadow in front of the Reichstag on October 3, became a place of celebration. In 1991 the German Bundestag passed the Berlin/Bonn Gesetz (Act) deciding to move to Berlin and to hold their parliamentary sessions in the historical building.


For years Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude had planned and proposed to wrap the Reichstag building; but for many members of the German parliament the wrapping meant an act of sacrilege. Eventually in 1996 the deputies consented to the plan just before they had decided that the building needed major transformations in order to become their future home.


The now famous wrapping of the Reichstag turned out to be an overwhelming public success that was considered by many as a breakthrough in the relation of the population with the previously unloved building.


Already in 1994 the Bundestag had adopted the design of the British architect Sir Norman Foster for the reconstruction of the Reichstag


The new cupola made from steel and glass has become a major tourist attraction of Germany's capital and can be visited even when the Bundestag is in session.


P.S.: The inscription  is still regarded as controversial. It found its counterpart in Hans Haake's even more controversial art project. It is installed in the Northern light-well of the Reichstag building. For further information click the following graphic:




Link to the Brandenburg Gate, symbol of German unity



This page was last updated on 03 August, 2018