With the proclamation of the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles on Jan. 18, 1871, Berlin acquired a new role as capital of the Empire. The Reichstag, the Imperial Parliament, needed a larger and more prestigious building after having been temporarily housed in part of the Royal Porcelain Manufactory in Leipziger Strasse.
The new Reichstag, a huge and elegantly proportioned Neo-Renaissance palace, was designed by Paul Wallot; the foundation stone was laid by the Emperor himself in 1884 and the building completed in 1894.
Platz der Republik, D-10557 Berlin, Germany
10am-5pm; Closed: Mon
The cost (30 million marks) was met from French war reparations.
In 1916, the inscription "Dem deutschen Volke" ("To the German People") was carved on the pediment and it is still visible today.
On the evening of Feb. 27, 1933, in circumstances which have never been fully explained, the Reichstag was destroyed by fire. The Nazi claim that the fire was started by members of the German Communist party was refuted by the not-guilty verdict of the Supreme Court on the two Communists accused of the crime, Dimitrov and Torgler (Dec. 1933). Nor has the Communist counter-claim that the Nazis themselves were responsible been proved. A Dutchman, Marinus van der Lubbe, was found guilty by the Supreme Court and condemned to death. In 1980, a German court dismissed the idea that he was solely responsible, and in 1981 this judgment was overturned. The most recent view held by historians is that van der Lubbe was indeed the perpetrator. The Reichstag fire was important not so much in itself as in its consequences, for it was the pretext for the emergency decree of Feb. 28, 1933 which suspended the basic rights guaranteed by the Weimar Constitution, and opened the way for Hitler and the National Socialists to persecute their political opponents shortly before the parliamentary elections on Mar. 5, 1933. What was left of the Reichstag after the fire was destroyed in 1945 by bombing and looting. On April 30, 1945, two Red Army soldiers raised the Soviet flag above the ruins of the Reichstag as a symbol of victory.
Rebuilding was not completed until 1970. The dome, blown up in 1957 as being in danger of collapse, has not been rebuilt, nor has the rich sculptural decoration been restored. The building has a Plenary Chamber seating 650, plus 30 committee rooms and almost 200 office rooms, which are used for meetings of committees of the Bundestag and Bundesrat (the two houses of the German Parliament) and of members of the various political parties. On Oct. 4, 1990, the first sitting of the new all-German parliament was held here, followed on Jan. 17, 1991, by the constituted sitting of the all-German Bundestag which had been elected on Dec. 2, 1990. With the decision to move government and parliament to Berlin it seems certain that - after extensive rebuilding work has been carried out - the Reichstag Building will in future be the permanent seat of the German Bundestag.
Visitors can now see an exhibition housed in the new building, "Questioning German History, from 1800 to the Present Day" (film shows, etc.). There is a restaurant and a cafe.