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Berlin’s Historic Reichstag Building

Berlin, Germany

The Reichstag, inaugurated as a parliament building in the 1890s, was the site of a suspicious fire in 1933 (which allowed Hitler to consolidate power) — but has risen from the ashes to become the nation’s parliament building once again, topped by a glass dome.

Complete Video Script

The underground takes us to Berlin’s governmental quarter. Germany dominates the European Union in part because of its effective government. The grandiose Chancellery is the official residence of the prime minister. It faces Germany’s parliament building, or Reichstag. With its motto, “To the German People,” it’s the symbolic heart of German democracy.

The Reichstag has a short yet dramatic history. When inaugurated in the 1890s, the emperor dismissed the new parliament building as a “house for chatting.” But after World War I, the German Republic was proclaimed from right here. Then, in 1933, a mysterious fire gutted the building, giving Hitler a convenient opportunity to blame the communists for the blaze in order to consolidate his hold on power.

As World War II drew to a close, the Nazis made their last stand here. Imagine, Germans fighting Russians on its rooftop. After 1945, the bombed out building stood like a ghost through the Cold War. Then, with reunification, the parliament moved back to Berlin. This historic ruin was rebuilt with a modern element: this striking glass dome.

A walkway winds all the way to the top. A cone of mirrors reflects natural light into the legislative chamber far below. As you spiral up, survey the city. The views are marvelous.

But for Germans, with their dark recent history, the view that matters most is inward, looking down, literally over the shoulders of their legislators. The architecture comes with a message: the people are determined to keep a wary eye on their government.