Yes, I am German, even though I haven’t lived in Germany for almost 15 years. But I do remember a time when I lived in Berlin, and of course there is still a lot of Germanness in me. It’s part of who I am and something that I am happy to share with the world. In particular when it comes to our children, I find it incredibly important to show them where they come from and what their cultural heritage is.
And so, good mom that I am, I decided to schlep them to the German parliament building, the Reichstag in Berlin. You may think that I am evil and that I did something so boring and horrendous that my children may hate me now.
But in fact, a visit to the Reichstag is a great thing to do while in Berlin. There are a lot of things to see and to discover, even for children. Plus, the Reichstag has a very interesting history which you can easily explore as you study the exhibition on the rooftop.
And it’s free to visit too, so what is not to like?
A Visit to the Reichstag Glass Dome
The highlight of the Reichstag is definitely a visit to the glass dome, in particular if you are visiting with children. There are free multi-lingual audio guides available for your visit to the rooftop but I have no patience for audio guides at all. We just wanted to live in the moment and explore this unusual space together.
We went straight to the glass dome which is a engineering feat like no other. Built by star architect Norman Forster, it is a well planned modern addition to the historic building.
Visitors can walk up inside the glass dome via a spiral walkway. Round and round in circles, with views of Berlin to one side, and views to the centre of the dome to the other. In the centre, a funnel made of mirrors add drama to the scene. They reflect sunlight down to the debating chamber underneath. To regulate the influx of light and heat, a motorised shield can move around the mirrors automatically.
The technical stuff was not important to the kids but walking up the spiral walkway we could point out Berlin landmarks which we were planning to visit with the children later on: the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, Museumsinsel and so forth.
Looking Down into the Debating Chamber
When the light was just right and the reflection not too bad, you could see the debating chamber underneath the glass dome. The children were excited to discover that the seat cushions were blue. Since it was Christmas time, parliament was not in session, but it very well might be for other visitors when they walk up the spiral walkway.
We explained to the children that this was the place where important people were making important decisions about how to live together in Germany in peace and comfort. They were rightfully unimpressed.
After walking all the up, we started our descent. On the bottom of the dome, around the glass roof of the debating chamber, we explored the small exhibition about the history of the building which was told in text and photos.
The history of the Reichstag is actually quite exciting. Just think about all the things that have happened here: How the Nazis came to power, the fire that damaged the building severely, the devastation of WWII, the Wrapping by artist Christo, and the re-opening after the reunification of Germany.
On the Rooftop
Even though it was icy cold in December we also toured the outside of the roof. There are lots of little details you can explore, ornaments with symbolic meaning such as heads and coats of arms. We risked a peek through the windows of offices, now without workers inside due to the Christmas holidays, found a hidden artwork – words – written inside one of the inner courtyards.
If you look close enough you can even make out inscriptions and graffitis left behind by Russian soldiers when they took possession of the Reichstag after the fall of Berlin. And there are also plenty of bulletholes big and small from WWII.
Dem Deutschen Volke(r)
As we left the Reichstag we turned around one last time to read the inscription over the entrance. It said here, in German, “Dem Deutschen Volke” – which means, “For the German people”. My husband Volker shook his head and turned to leave. “They did it wrong,” he mumbled. “Volke is missing an r”.
What you Need to Know Before Visiting the Reichstag
I used to live in Berlin when I was younger, and I remember well how easy it used to be to visit the Reichstag for fun. I used to take international visitors here all the time and they enjoyed the views with me and learned a little bit about German history. That was back in 2003, 2004. Things have changed since then. The world has changed. It’s not as easy and as carefree as it used to be.
How to Book Your Free Ticket to the Reichstag Dome
A visit to the Reichstag is still possible, and it’s still free of charge. All you have to do is get things organised in time so that you won’t get disappointed later. If you plan a visit to the Reichstag you first have to book a ticket for a selected date and time via the official website. It may look boring but it’s actually quite easy to do.
You can book up to three months in advance and as early as possible. Make sure you have your ID cards or passports ready. Within a couple of days you will receive a written confirmation which you can then print out and bring along together with your ID. If you don’t receive an email confirmation, try again using another email address or check your spam folder.
All visitors must first go to the trailer in front of the Reichstag building. Inside, there are screening facilities just like you would find at an airport. Don’t worry about the language barrier. The staff speaks very good English. All visitors are asked to wait after the screening until a group sufficient in size has formed. Then a member of staff will show this group to the Reichstag entrance.
This is a temporary solution until a more permanent visitor centre is in place.
You may take small bags inside but have to agree to have them scanned beforehand. As you can see from the photos in this article, it’s ok to take photos once you are on the roof.