Berlin’s Dome of Openness

Reichstag Building in Berlin, Germany (Photo by Don Knebel)

Berlin’s Reichstag Building has become Germany’s second most visited building, reflecting both its historical significance and its technological sophistication.

In 1871, independent German states united to form the German Empire, with its capital in Berlin.  A committee of the Reichstag, the imperial assembly, selected a site just north of the Brandenburg Gate for a new parliament building and held a competition to determine the building’s architecture.  The winning design, featuring a steel and glass cupola at the center, was based on Philadelphia’s Memorial Hall, built for the 1876 World’s Fair.  The Reichstag of the Weimar Republic met in the same building.  In 1933, a fire, thought by many to have been started by the new Nazi government, severely damaged the building.  Hitler immediately blamed Communists and radicals for the fire and used it as the pretext for assuming dictatorial powers.  During World War II, the Reichstag Building was further damaged by Allied bombing.  After the war, with the capital of West Germany in Bonn, the building remained vacant.

After German reunification, the federal government moved its capital to Berlin and restored the Reichstag Building for use by the Bundestag, the German parliament.  The restoration included adding a huge glass dome at the center of the building, replacing the original cupola that had been destroyed.  The Bundestag meets under the clear dome, symbolizing the openness of Germany’s democratic government.  An inverted cone in the middle of the dome, covered in mirrors, directs daylight toward the legislative chamber and reflects the inside lights toward the dome at night.  A giant shield inside the dome electronically follows the sun and blocks direct sunlight.  Two interior helical ramps allow citizens to climb to the dome’s apex, fostering the idea that the German people are above their government and also offering a spectacular 360-degree view of modern Berlin. 

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