We rarely ever book a tour when we travel so our visit to Reichstag had to start off with a map and lots of finger pointing on the map (usually from wife to me) of where we need to go. I am hopeless at maps so her meeting me at the Zoological gardens bus stop last night was a lifesaver. Even with technology like Google’s street view, I was totally disorientated when I got of the bus from Tegel Airport. In my defense, I was still imagining a different Berlin when I landed. Thus, it would have taken me three times as long to find the hotel. So, after poring over the map, we simply had to head straight towards the canal.
We should have got off to an earlier start but we set off nonetheless, taking a left turn on Bundapesterstrasse and headed towards Tiergarten. When we reached the canal, we walked past a Rosa Luxemburg memorial with still fresh flowers on them. She is still revered among many and there is more than one memorial to her name. At the Landwehr canal where we were, this was the spot where her body was dumped after she was murdered on the night of 15th January 1919.
Crossing the Lichtenstein Bridge, we skirted the edge of the Berlin Zoo (which its claim to fame is for housing more species of animals than any other zoo in the world). And although it was already late morning, plenty of its guests were still happily asleep and barely took any notice of us as we walked past.
We were then in Tiergarten which is the largest public park in Berlin. It was used as the hunting grounds once for the aristocrat and sculptures here point to that. With only time for a quick few shots, we then intersected with the 67-m high Berlin Victory Column that commemorates the victory of the Prussian-Danish war. It was not always located at this monster roundabout. But the Nazis in their dreams of a greater Berlin relocated it here and in doing so probably saved it as its original location was heavily destroyed by American air raids.
There is a viewing platform here but once again we hurried quickly along as we had booked a visit time to the Reichstag at 10:15 that morning. And before us was the never ending Strasse des 17. Juni, a main road that almost melted my mind when I was told the Reichstag was at the end of this long road.
But it’s surprising what having a target can do as we walked at an Olympian pace and slowly our destination came into view and we made it at the allotted time with 10 minutes to spare.
Before us were queues waiting to get tickets but as we had got ours online beforehand (highly recommended), we were able to just go straight in at our chosen time. By the way, the visits are free so the tickets are merely for times to control the number of visitors into the Reichstag. There were then the mandatory security checks and metal detectors before we were organized into small groups and escorted towards the Reichstag by a guide.
Finally, we walked through double sliding glass doors where security appear to give you one final look before letting you onto the elevator that takes you up to the dome that has become such a popular tourist attraction. If you are not on a guided tour, the headset is a wonderful alternative as it is automated to come on at various spots in the dome. A simply clever idea.
It is then blindingly obvious why the dome made entirely of glass has become such an attraction. Not only is it striking and futuristic in its appearance, it is also wonderfully functional. There is a central cone-shape column made up entirely of mirrors that are designed to reflect natural light down towards the Bundestag debating chamber below. The reflective glass makes it hard to see but at certain points in the dome, you can make out the rows and rows of blue chairs in the chamber. And then along the sides of the dome, is a double walkway to the top, like a double helix, which means you can walk to the top and down just going one way all the time.
Surprisingly, the top of the dome is not closed but open. This allows the regulation of air and heat within the dome. It then also captures the rain and snow which is then recycled as water throughout the building! Finally, it also has its own sunshade that tracks the sun to stop glare and too much solar gain.
All in all, what a marvelously clever design by Norman Forster. With its 360 degree views of Berlin and the headset highlighting interesting sights and buildings, it is a great way to get an overview of the city and orientate yourself on the first day. Which from my point of view was highly beneficial as all that walking round and round up to the top and back down had me totally confused again the moment I stepped out. One thing for sure, after all that walking, we made our way to the nearest cafe for a hot cup of chocolate before hitting our stride again.