Reichstag, more than just parliament

THE author (second right) with other participants.

EMELDA MUSONDA, Berlin, Germany
EVERY opportunity I have had to travel to Europe and other developed parts of the world, one of the things that have caught my attention is the architectural beauty of some buildings and the ingenuity behind their

Recently I travelled to Germany at the invitation of the Federal Government for a one-week media information tour and the Reichstag – a building that houses Germany’s Parliament (Bundestag) – literally blew my mind off.
While my trip was primarily focused on visiting media- related and public institutions, – I must admit our tour guides from Goethe Institute – our host institution-did a commendable job in blending business and leisure by showcasing what Berlin and Hamburg have to offer in terms of tourism.
Our visit to the Bundestag (Germany Parliament) was one such combination of business and leisure.
The visit was strategically scheduled such that we had time to meet some members of the Bundestag committee on SADC to discuss media-related issues before proceeding to tour the landmark building.
This particular committee was chosen because all the seven participants of the media tour were drawn from SADC countries, namely Botswana, Malawi, Namibia and Zambia. Zambia was the most represented with three participants (Charles Mwelwa from the Zambian Weekly, Charles Mafa, a freelance journalist and this author) followed by Malawi with two and one each from Botswana and Namibia.
As we entered the massive building we were asked to leave our passports at the security checkpoint before proceeding to one of the committee rooms where the chairperson of the Bundestag committee on SADC, Mr Martin Rabanus, and other members met with us.
After sharing notes on the media in the SADC region and Germany, it was time to tour the legendary Reichstag building which is housed together with the German Bundestag office buildings (the Jakob Kaiser House for members of parliament), the Paul Löbe House for parliamentary committees, and the Marie Elisabeth Lüders House for the library, reference and research services.
The six-storey complex designed in the style of the Italian High Renaissance covers an area of about 13,290 square metres, and has four towers which are 40 metres high.
It was fascinating to learn that the two parallel buildings housing the Bundestag offices are referred to as the engine to signify the important role members of the Bundestag shoulder. The office buildings are ingeniously positioned facing each other and forming the shape of a crankshaft in the middle space.
As we went round the building, our parliamentary tour guide passionately explained the rich history and significance of the building and some of the images and text displayed on the walls.
Among the things documented on the walls are the names of former members and leaders of the Bundestag including Adolf Hitler.
My favourite part and rather the pinnacle of the tour was going up to the glass dome which is right above the Bundestag chamber.
To access the dome, which is placed at the roof, we used an elevator and the heavy traffic of people to and from the dome was enough evidence of how popular the glass structure is.
To build the elegant and massive glass dome which stands 23.5 metres high, it is estimated that eight hundred tons of steel and 3,000 square metres of glass were used. The glass structure also has 360 mirrors which provide daylight to the Bundestag plenary chamber underneath.
Inside the glass dome there are elliptical ramps spiralling up allowing ordinary people to ascend to the observation platform where proceedings in the Bundestag chamber can be observed through a bird’s view. This is meant to symbolically show that citizens are above their government.
It was also amazing to learn that the dome also drives the building’s natural lighting and ventilation strategies. At its core is a ‘light sculptor’ that reflects horizon light down into the chamber, while a sun-shield tracks the path of the sun to block solar gain and glare. At night this process is reversed – the dome elegantly illuminates the Berlin skyline, signalling the vigour of the German democratic process.
The new technology in the dome also works as a local power plant, capturing both solar and wind energy. It also makes use of energy converted from vegetable oil. As a result, it saves so much energy which is used to power the neighbouring buildings.
By the time we were done with our tour, I was in awe not only of the magnificence of the structure but the value imbedded in the building which makes it not only an outstanding tourist attraction but a true symbol of democracy and sustainability.
Adding to the beauty of the whole building is the beautiful scenery of the Spree River which meanders on its north-eastern side.
While parliament buildings by nature offer a basic level of tourism, the Reichstag is a unique structure, which offers tourism beyond an ordinary parliament building.
It therefore goes to show the high level of planning and ingenuity that was invested in constructing the building.
History has it that the Reichstag building, which was originally designed by the German architect Paul Wallot, was first completed in 1894 after 23 years of construction. However, the Second World War bombings and the cold war caused great damage to the building. Although the building was refurbished in 1960, renovators did not use Wallot’s original design of the dome, the building was rather simplified.
In 1995 the English architect Norman Foster was hired to put new life to the old Reichstag. The new Reichstag building was officially opened on April 19, 1999. This is the building that is attracting about 2.3 million tourists annually.
My visit to the Bundestag (Parliament) was just one of the many interesting tours I undertook together with my media colleagues while in Germany.
Other interesting tourist sites we were privileged to visit include the famous Berlin wall, the Jewish memorial site, some historical churches, the Alexanderplatz, Berlin’s most visited square. We also visited the Museumsinsel, also known as the Museum Island which houses numerous museums in Berlin and the Hamburg Harbour in Hamburg.
And because it was a media tour, we visited the famous Deusche Welle (DW) and the Der Spiegel, German’s largest weekly magazine, among many other media and public institutions.
All in all, the Reichstag building stood out for me as a true mark of ingenuity. It is much more than just a parliament building.

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