German Government Moving
Back To Berlin & The Reichstag
BBC News
The Reichstag, the parliament building which has such strong associations with the country's tumultuous modern history, will officially reopen on Monday.
For a tour of the new Reichstag click <
A four-year renovation under the guidance of British architect Norman Foster has transformed the building which dates back to 1894. The parliament is in the course of moving from Bonn back to Berlin and the government will follow in the autumn.
But ever since MPs narrowly voted for a return to the Reichstag, shortly after German reunification in 1990, the plan has courted controversy.
For some the $11bn cost of the project is too much to swallow, while others feel the Reichstag's close ties to the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich make it an inappropriate venue for democratic debate.
Caroline Wyatt reports: "Berlin is keen to put the past behind it"When parts of the building were burned down in 1933, Adolf Hitler, the newly-installed chancellor, put the blame on communists. Most historians believe either the governing National Socialist party itself was responsible or that a Dutch hitchhiker, Marinus van der Lubbe, committed the arson attack independently.
Nevertheless, Hitler used the crime as a pretext to push through an emergency law to disempower parliament and outlaw all political opposition.
In 1945 the Reichstag was shelled by the Russian Red Army, before soldiers planted its flag on the roof of the forum in a potent image of victory.
Peace-time Germany was carved into East and West, with two respective capitals established on East Berlin and the small town of Bonn, on the Rhine.
Prof Wende: "Bonn had to be replaced by a permanent capital""The German Bundestag, the German Parliament, was placed in Bonn because it was a clear sign that this was a provisionary institution as long as Germany was divided," says Professor Wende, Director of the German Historical Institute.
"The modern German constitution had, so to speak, the (goal) of re-unification as a political task for the German Republic, and when this had been achieved in 1990, of course Bonn had to be replaced by a permanent capital."
Although there was significant opposition to the plan, supporters remember the Reichstag as a highly charged emblem of democracy.
The neo-renaissance building, designed by the acclaimed architect Paul Wallot, had been the cradle of German democracy during the Bismarck era of Prussian rule.
The glass dome allows visitors to look down on MPsThe acclaimed architect Sir Norman Foster, who won the commission to rebuild the Reichstag, pledged that the history of the building should not be sanitised.
"From the beginning we said it was about history, about renewal, regeneration, it was about the working of parliament, it was about ecology, symbolism," said Sir Norman.
"And I think it's really quite remarkable that all these radical ideas have found a concrete form."
The most spectacular feature of the new Reichstag is a modern, 22 metre-high, modern glass dome, with a viewing gallery allowing visitors to look down on their politicial representatives.
Former BBC correspondent Oliver Berlau: "The current eagle is rather odd, rather fat"The symbolism is intentional says Foster, who sees the glass embodying the spirit of transparency and democracy in much of post-war Germany. He wanted to show the people's power over the MPs working below.
The no-holds-barred approach means visitors will see examples of jubilant, anti-German graffiti that victorious Soviet soldiers had scrawled across the walls in 1945.
The fat eagle stays. But some controversies still linger on, such as the shape of the German eagle to be displayed. The current eagle is considered fat and efforts have been made to slim down the bird which has been Germany's symbol for 1,000 years.
But new designs have been rejected because of a copyright question hanging over the existing image.
There is also disquiet about the name "Reichstag" - "reich" means empire in German. A group of German MPs have demanded the historic name should be replaced by a more neutral sounding phrase such as "plenary area" or "Deutscher Bundestag" since Germany no longer has an empire.
This opposition is misplaced says Prof Wende.
"One has to make clear that when the German parliament, the parliament of the German Federal Republic, moves to a building which is called Reichstag, it is actually moving into a building where one can find one of the important roots of German democracy," he says.