Construction started on the Reichstag building in 1871, previous to this the government had met in other buildings in Leipziger Straße but all were considered too small. The chosen site for the construction was a derelict Prussian palace on Konigsplatz (now Platz der Republik), owned by Athanasius Raczynski. Due to disagreeements about how the construction should be performed, and problems purchasing the property, it took ten years for work to start.
The Reichstag was completed in a Neo-Baroque style and designed by an architect from Frankfurt named Paul Wallot. Decorative sculptures, relief's and inscriptions were by Otto Lessing. On June 29th 1884 the foundation stone was laid by Wilhelm I at the east side of Konigsplatz. The original building was widely acclaimed for the construction of an original cupola of steel and glass, which at the time was a feat of engineering. It's mixture of architectural styles, of course, drew widespread criticism.
It wasn't until 1916 that the inscription Dem Deutsche Volke (meaning [To] The German People) was carved into the frieze. This was added much to the displeasure of Wilhelm II, who tried to block the adding of the inscription for it's democratic significance. After WWI, and the King had abdicated, in 1918 Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the institution of a republic from one of the balconies. The Reichstag continued to house the parliament of the Weimar Republic.
On 27th February 1933, the Reichstag caught fire. To this day the circumstances are not entirely clear. Historians disagree over whether or not it was started by one man alone, named Marinus van der Lubbe. He claimed to have, but three other's were arrested in connection to the fire. It is also thought that perhaps the Nazi party were behind it the whole time. It gave the Nazi party a pretext to suspend most rights provided for in 1919 by the Weimar Constitution. This was done in an effort to weed out any communists and increase state security throughout Germany.
The building was made safe after the fire, but the government no longer convened here. The few times it was used, they met in the Krolloper building, a former opera house opposite the Reichstag. This includes on March 23rd 1933 when the Reichstag dissolved all it's power in favour of the Nazi government in the "Enabling Act". The building was never fully repaired it was damaged both by the fire and by air raids. During the Battle of Berlin it became one of the targets for the Red Army to capture due to it's symbolic significance. To this day you can see lots of faint graffiti of Soviet propaganda.
When the cold war emerged, the Reichstag building was geographically in the Western half of the city, it was only a few metre's from The Wall. After the war ended, there was no real use for the building and it was essentially a ruin. The seat of Western Germany had been established in Bonn in 1949. After some debate about what to do with the building, it was decided it should not be torn down, but should be restored. Though the original cupola was demolished as it had been heavily damaged during the war.
The architect Paul Baumgarten reconstructed the building between 1961-1964. He utterly removed anything that harked back to the mythology of Germany's past, heraldic statues, monuments, and any decoration as well as any larger statues on the outside. He created a plain building, using only the outer walls of the historic building. The value, both artistic and practical was subject of much debate after the Reunification of the city. As the provisions set forth for Berlin by the Allies in 1971 "Four Power Agreement on Berlin", the Bundestag, the parliament of West Germany, was not allowed to formally assemble in Berlin. Even though East Germany was in violation of this having declared East Berlin it's capital. Until the Reunification ceremony on October 3rd 1990, the building was only used for occasional meetings and one- off events.
Looking from one icon to another, the fernsehturm in the distance
The parliament met at the Reichstag the following day as an act of symbolism for a united Germany. At the time, though, Berlin's role had not yet been decided. It was only after a fierce debate, considered one of the most memorable sessions of parliament, did the Bundestag conclude on June 20th 1991 with a slim majorty that both the government and parliament should return to Berlin from Bonn.
In 1992 the building was reconstructed yet again, this time by an architect named Norman Foster. He stripped the inside out, leaving only the exterior walls. One of the stipulations for the architects was that any historical event shown in the building should be retained and visible, including the Soviet graffiti (except for that which contained any racial or sexual themes, as agreed with the Russian diplomats at the time). The construction was completed in 1999 with the first session of parliament happening on April 19th that year.
The huge glass dome, that is FREE to visit, was constructed as a nod to the original cupola. It gives impressive views across the city of Berlin, and we had a great time visiting at dusk, and seeing the sun set over the city, giving way from daylight to darkness.
To visit the Reichstag's dome, you must register all participants online and select the times you wish to visit, I suggest doing it a couple of days before as you have to wait for them to reply and tell you whether or not your visit has been given the OK.