History of the Reichstag

The Reichstag building has stood the test of time in one way or another for the past 129 years.

It shows crucial junctures in German politics that affected the nation and the world. The parliaments, the dictatorship, the war and the reunification – this building has been through it all.

The Reichstag building history starts from 1884 when Emperor Wilhelm I led its foundational stone. The building was designed by Paul Wallot, and its construction went on for 10 years.

Delve into the pivotal history of the Reichstag during World War II and the Third Reich on our gripping Berlin Walking Tour.

The final stone was laid by Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1894, and the building was finally complete.

Reaching 154 feet in the air, the building was designed with crowns, eagles, four corner towers, inscriptions and decorative sculptures.

The building also had facilities considered way ahead of its time, such as temperature-controlled water heating, toilets with running water, an electrical power station, double-glazed windows and a library.

The two Emperors under whose rule the building was built differed as to what Reichstag will serve. 

While the first king, Wilhelm I, wanted it to be a parliamentary building from where legislators would serve the nation, Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II was not big on democracy.

He opposed the scripture “Dem deutschen volke” (“To the German people”) being carved over the main facade of the building.

The history of the Reichstag then saw World War I, at the end of which the proclamation of The Weimar Republic was made from the balcony of the Reichstag.

Step back in time and uncover the rich history of the Reichstag while exploring the iconic Plenary Chamber, Dome, and Government District on this immersive tour.

The building continued to serve as the parliament until 1933 when the history of the Reichstag took a dark turn shortly after the beginning of Nazi Germany.

The building was badly damaged in the Reichstag fire. Adolf Hitler conveniently used this act of arson to suspend civil rights as he blamed the communists for the fire at the Reichstag.

This burning of Reichstag led to the parliament shifting to the Kroll Opera House while the monument was used for multiple purposes over the years.

While Nazis did not use the building itself, Hitler delivered two Reichstag speeches in 1939, Reichstag here referring to the parliament and not the building.

The latter speech was about declaring war, eventually starting the Second World War. The former was a chilling speech where he openly threatened the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish community from Europe.

These Hitler Reichstag speeches were nationalistic and followed the dangerous template of mixing half-truths with massive misinformation to turn the familiar crowd against neighboring countries and minorities.  

This period of German history is known as the Third Reichstag, the horrible and hateful Nazi empire.

Despite being damaged in what came to be known as the Reichstag fire of 1933, the building was seen as an essential point of contention in World War II.

The final Soviet offensive on Hitler and his army was known as The Battle of Berlin. Within this was also the battle for Reichstag.

When the Red Army waved the Soviet flag atop the Reichstag in 1945, WW2 had reached a point of decisive victors. The victory of the Allied forces saw the end of the horrific and discriminatory Nazi Germany.

This time in the history of the Reichstag saw the building ravaged by Allied bombing and the fight to occupy it.

After occupying the Reichstag, graffiti was scribbled in the building by Soviet soldiers, which can still be seen today, along with weapon holes from World War 2.

The building and what it has endured is world famous, and even in games like Minecraft, Reichstag is available in multiple building designs.

The next chapter in the history of the Reichstag saw multiple reparations and restorations. The first attempt at restoration was discussed in 1956, with work starting in 1961 and finishing in 1971.

The original dome of the Reichstag was dismantled after being heavily damaged in the war, and the facade of the building was simplified. The broken statues were not restored.

The building was used for exhibitions and speeches during this time. the parliament could not convene as Germany had been divided into East Germany and West Germany, and even the capital of Berlin was divided into East and West Berlin.

In 1990, the history of the Reichstag added to its legacy as it became the site of the official reunification of Germany.

In 1991, after a discussion, it was decided that the Reichstag would return to being the German parliament, and work began to reconstruct it into a functional building instead of just a relic. 

This decision was made by voting among parliament members, with those in favor narrowly obtaining a majority.

This work saw the building be heavily redesigned from the inside, aside from the material preserved from historically significant events.

Here, the glass dome replaced the cupola after the government asked the architect Norman Foster to include it in the design.

This reconstruction took place from 1992 – 1999, and on 19 April of that year, the parliament held a session in Reichstag again. The parliament continues to convene at the Reichstag to this day. 

Reichstag became a hugely famous attraction visited by Germans and tourists alike. The glass dome and its view, in particular, became very popular.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who built the Reichstag in berlin?

Paul Wallot originally built the Reichstag from 1884-1894.

It was reconstructed for the first time by Paul Baumgarten from 1961 to 1971.

It was reconstructed for the second and so far, last time by Norman Foster from 1992-1999.

What was the Reichstag known for?

Reichstag is known for many events that shaped modern-day Germany and even the world as we know it.

Some famous events at Reichstag are:- The Reichstag fire, The reunification of Germany, The Battle of Berlin, etc.

What happened to the original Reichstag?

The original Reichstag that had the cupola at the center was damaged by fire and then ruined in war a few years later.

After rebuilding and repairing, many remains of the past and the war were preserved and can be seen today.

Why is the Reichstag important to Germany?

The Reichstag is where the German parliamentary sessions take place today. Besides, it is a historically important building for Germany and symbolizes the end of World War II and Nazi regime in their nation.

What happened to the Reichstag during WW2?

Reichstag was massively destroyed by air raids by the Allied forces and the last Battle of Berlin. 

That, coupled with little maintenance after The Reichstag fire 1933, left the building in disarray. The interior especially had to be revamped almost completely.

What are some fun facts about the Reichstag?

Reichstag’s glass dome gives a 360-degree view of Berlin while also providing lighting and ventilation assistance to the building. The reunification of Germany took place officially at Reichstag. 

The Soviet graffiti left by Red Army soldiers after winning the Battle of Berlin is still preserved and available to view for visitors. 

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