The German National Tourist Board have been at the forefront of what is known in Germany as ‘barrier free’ tourism for a number of years. Able Magazine was invited to take a look at some of the latest attractions to be added to a roster of ever more diverse places to visit. The Reichstag building in Berlin was our pick of an impressive tour.
It’s quite a rare thing for an accessible tour to take place so far above the rooftops and trees. Whilst it’s all perfectly safe and comfortable, it’s an opportunity for disabled people in particular, who might, let’s be honest, often find themselves waiting for their companions at the gate, to enjoy a wonderful experience – and spectacular views.
If Berlin was one of the most significant cities of the twentieth century then the Reichstag building must rate as one that has seen its fair share of history, as different ideologies have collided and resolved over the years.
The original Reichstag building opened in 1894 to house the ‘Imperial Diet’ until it was severely damaged by a fire in 1933 started by a communist faction; the subsequent accusations and trial provided evidence for the emerging Nazi party that communists were in revolt against the Government.
The building fell into disuse after the fire. The Reichstag of Nazi Germany left the building (and it ceased to act as a parliament). Indeed, the term Reichstag has not been used by German parliaments since the Second World War with the parliament of the German Democratic Republic (the Volkskammer) meeting in the Palast der Republik in East Berlin, while the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany (the Bundestag) met in the Bundeshaus in Bonn, some 370 miles away.
The ruined building was structurally secured and partially refurbished in the 1960s, but no attempt at full restoration was made until after German reunification on 3 October 1990, when it underwent a reconstruction led by British architect, Norman Foster. After its completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag.
In today’s usage, the German word ‘Reichstag’ (Imperial Diet Building) refers mainly to the building, while Bundestag (Federal Diet) refers to the institution.
Taking it in
The poetry of the current building is that it provides 360° degree views across Berlin which immediately dissolves notions of East and West and indeed borders or lines on maps. The city once again peacefully breathes through its lush green spaces as visitors take in the splendour of one of the most handsome capitals in the world.
None of this would have been possible without the incredible design of the roof terrace and dome which effectively substitutes bricks and slates for steel beams and glass. No matter what time of day your visit or what the weather is like, the fundamental experience is genuinely uplifting.
The practical side to the dome is such that it can be fully accessed by anybody with impaired mobility. Whilst there isn’t a lift (to the top), the spiral ramps around the perimeter of the dome are suitable for anyone with means, either independently or with support. The spiral walkways aren’t steep but you will need some effort to get to the top – but you can take your time and the view is a worthy reward. The accompanying audio-guide actually invites visitors to stop on several occasions in order to listen to details about certain parts of the view as you traverse the 230 metre assent (which takes about 20 minutes) which is a handy excuse to take it easy.
Perhaps as you arrive back from the top of the building to the roof terrace you’ll visit the restaurant for a restorative slice of gateau, perhaps to replenish the calories you’ve burnt or just to say that you’ve eaten in the only public restaurant situated in any parliamentary building in the world.
The Reichstag is an incredibly innovative building and a brilliant motif of Berlin’s ongoing commitment to inclusion.
Registering to visit
Admission to the Reichstag building is free but advance registration is strongly recommended. (You will also need your passport as proof of identity.)
Requests can only be submitted together with a complete list of participants (naming all members of your group). Without an accurate and complete list of participants, the Visitors’ Service cannot process your request. Surname, first name and date of birth details are required from each visitor.
If you would like to visit the dome but have not booked in advance, you can register to do so at the service centre run by the Visitors’ Service near the Reichstag Building, next to the Berlin Pavilion on the south side of Scheidemannstraße. If any free places are still available, you will be issued a booking confirmation entitling you to visit the dome. This must be issued a minimum of two hours before the time of your visit. You can also register to visit the dome in the following two days. The service centre does not accept bookings for visits more than two days in advance.
To book your visit to the dome, surname, first name and date of birth details are required from each visitor. The booking confirmation is issued to you personally and is non-transferable. You will be asked for proof of identity both upon registration and at the main entrance for visitors.
The service centre is open from 8am to 6pm daily in winter (1 November – 31 March) and from 8am to 8pm daily in summer (1 April – 31 October).
Daily from 8am to 12pm.
Every quarter of an hour
Last admission: 10pm
German National Tourist Board