*Click HERE to read the article with the full set of photographs
There is nothing about the Reichstag Building, or Parliament Building that hasn’t been written before or photographed ad nauseam, and I certainly am not aspiring to add to any touristy kitsch. It was, however, interesting to return to the Reichstag after so many years and take a good look at the heart of Berlin, and in a sense, the heart of Europe. Let’s face it, Germany sets the pace for the EU, which can be interpreted on a positive and negative note, depending on whom you ask. Those countries with flailing economies are panting in desperate efforts to keep up with the long-striding Germans. Heck, so are the short-legged (and sighted) Asians. But that’s beside the point. All I want to tell you about today is about the most glorified ice-cream cone in the world and for the life of me, I have no idea what the architects were thinking when they re-designed the Reichstag.
It doesn’t matter how you approach the Reichstag Building, whether before or after the epic Brandenburg Gate, but it is a bit like approaching the Eiffel Tower in Paris from Trocadero. You don’t really see it because of all the buildings in front but once you reach the clearing a majestic piece of bizarre architecture looms in front of you and take your breath away.
If you have little time and no patience, or decided to visit the famous dome on the spur of the moment, then make sure you are carrying your passport (for non-EU citizens) or a valid EU ID, and are wearing comfortable shoes, because the line to the ticket office is long. To the credit of the staff there, it moves along at a decent pace even though there are only two counters. Entrance is free, but don’t expect to get an immediate time slot. If you are like me, who refuses to carry the passport around at all times, a scanned copy will suffice to purchase the ticket, but to enter the Reichstag they require the original document. If you know well in advance that you are coming to Berlin, you can book online but this only works if you are intending to book at least three weeks in advance.
Understandably, the security check is worse than any airport I’ve been to lately. With my luck and track record of security glitches worldwide, of course I got called out for something, but not what I expected. When my camera bag got singled out after the x-ray I died a slow death inwardly, thinking that my mini tripod was going to get me into trouble and I would have to leave it there. That wasn’t it. Wait for it… it was my breath freshener spray! Of course, on the x-ray screen it might have looked like a small can of mace or pepper spray, but I had completely forgotten about it being in my pack and was rattled when asked to produce it.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the elevator ride up to the dome was the ultimate nightmare for me. They take people up in batches, but pack the elevator to maximum capacity. Let’s just say I was on the verge of a massive anxiety attack and was never so glad to get out of there.
Before you get any illusions about exploring the building on your own. Forget it. There is a guided tour for certain parts, and if you book in advance, you can also sit in for one of the sessions of Parliament (which is only interesting if you speak German). The dome, however is a different story. Once you get there, you can either get the audio guide, or ditch the entire explanation (and read up on it later) and simply soak in the architecture and wonder what was going on in Norman Foster’s mind when he designed it and why leave a gaping hole at the top… to beam up miscreant members of parliament for being stubborn and belligerent? In any case, the spiraled dome that goes around this massive ice cream cone is an experience. For an instance, you have visions of the Louvre and the crazy glass pyramid outside surrounded by the baroque architecture, with a matching inverted pyramid inside. same thing with the Reichstag, you look down into what looked to me like a giant spider web, and straight into the general assembly.
Unification and power they say is what this metallic ice cream cone is supposed to convey. I see transparency, fragility, hollowness, and whole lot of window cleaning. I keep waiting for the next Dan Brown novel to feature the Reichstag and see how German security will handle the Dan Brown adventure tours (e.g. Da Vinci Code Tour in Paris, Inferno Tour in Florence, Angels and Demons in Rome)!