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Germany Reclaims ‘New’ Reichstag

April 19, 1999

BERLIN (AP) _ With brass bands, waving flags and beaming politicians, parliament inaugurated its new home in the stately, restored Reichstag today, a landmark occasion in the government’s return to its prewar capital Berlin.

A solemn tone tempered the celebration. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder noted that the move back to the capital _ scene of Prussian militarism and Third Reich totalitarianism _ came just as German troops were participating in NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia, their first attack on a sovereign nation since World War II.

``Our democracy and our parliament are strong and stable,″ Schroeder said. ``The move to Berlin is not a break in the continuity of German postwar history.″

The chancellor, speaking inside the building’s new glass-walled parliament chamber, defended Germany’s role in NATO airstrikes as its ``historic responsibility ... as a land that had two dictatorships in this century, as a land that brought genocide and aggression over our continent.″

Schroeder also reflected on the importance of Berlin, once divided into communist East and Allied-controlled, capitalist West, as the ``hinge of European unity.″

Moving to Berlin means shifting Germany’s seat of power eastward, which politicians also hope will bridge the gap between the nation’s former communist eastern states and its more prosperous west.

Parliament’s meeting in the Reichstag is the first big step in the move from Bonn, the provincial western city where West Germany’s capital was relegated after World War II. Next come the election of a new German president in May and the new parliament session in September, the first to open in the new building.

To thunderous applause, parliament President Wolfgang Thierse promised lawmakers that the change in location did not mean a change in politics.

``We don’t want another kind of policy, but as tranquil a move as possible from Bonn to Berlin,″ he declared.

Berlin’s grim past had raised concern about the government’s return there. But the new Reichstag, transformed by architect Sir Norman Foster’s $330 million renovation, is as light as the capital’s legacy is dark.

The glass walls around the central parliament chamber, plus a viewing ledge from the second floor, mean visitors can see and hear what lawmakers are doing inside. An immense, new glass dome atop the old building channels natural light to the lawmakers below.

``I want this glass dome to become a symbol for the openness and transparency of our democratic politics,″ Schroeder said.

In addition to modern changes, the architect preserved the building’s original 19th-century exterior, as well as wartime scars inside _damage from bombs and fires, and graffiti left behind by Soviet soldiers who seized the building in 1945.

More than any other building in Berlin, the Reichstag has represented the different phases of Germany’s turbulent, terrible history over the passing century.

It was burned during the Nazi era and bombed by Allied forces. East Germany built the Berlin Wall just a few steps from the Reichstag’s back entrance. After the Wall came down, the artist Christo celebrated the end of communism by wrapping the Reichstag in a million square feet of silvery fabric.

The 1995 wrapping was the last big event held at the building until today’s ceremony, kicked off by architect Foster’s presenting a 20-inch-long key of his own design to the parliamentary president.

Thierse grinned and held it over his head in celebration. Afterward, Lutheran and Roman Catholic bishops blessed the building.

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