The politics inside

In 1999, the German parliament, the Bundestag, moved into the Reichstags building. The restoration by Norman Foster split the building into seven floors, three of which are dedicated to legislative activities, two devoted to visitors and two serving practical purposes.

Pretty much anyone can visit the building, although one does need to register and be added to each day’s list of visitors. I say pretty much anyone as I suspect that part of the application process involves some form of checking mechanism. The automated confirmation I received when I applied did indicate that permission to access could be revoked.

On the day, our names were confirmed to be on the list, we showed our IDs and went through a security check. Interestingly, my full water bottle was of no concern, so whatever liquid can bring down an aeroplane can’t blow up a parliament! The main entry for visitors is up the wide steps at the front of the building onto the Plenarsaalebene, the floor on which the debating chamber is located. From there, we were taken to the visitors’ floor and the gallery overlooking the debating floor.

There is a blue chair for nearly every member of parliament. The German proportional representation system has resulted in an enormous number of elected members, only China has a parliament with more members. After each general election the building maintenance team re-arranges the seats to create gaps between the different parties in the round and where possible add sufficient blue chairs so that all members have a seat. At present there are more elected members than the chamber can hold and there are rows of moveable black chairs at the back. As it is rare for all members to attend, they aren’t used very often.

At the front there is a raised area where the Bundestagspräsident sits, the president of the parliament. Not to be confused with the president of the country, the Bundespräsident. The president of the Bundestag presides over the plenary sessions and is supported by a team of clerks.

To the right of the president sits the government, the chair with the higher back being reserved for the Chancellor, the cabinet members sitting in the remaining seats. The seats on the other side are for members of the Bundesrat, the second chamber. They cannot participate in any debates, however as they ultimately need to agree to proposed legislation, some members want to observe the debate in the Bundestag to be fully informed. There is also a seat there reserved for the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces. The commissioner has a reporting function rather than a participatory one.

The visitor’s floor is also home to the press corps, the footage broadcast on TV is usually recorded from here.

Visitors are not permitted on the next floor, the presidential floor, so I could only take a picture of its door frames, which are red. The plenary floor has blue doors and door frames, those on the visitors’ level are green and then red on the presidential floor.

Above the presidential floor is the top political floor (with black doorframes), where each of the parties have dedicated areas in which their members of parliament meet and discuss things to reach internal party consensus. The party press briefings are also held here, each party having its own background and lectern.

The two largest parties, the CDU/CSU and the SPD have a corner each, under one of the four towers at the top of the building. The other four parties share the other two corners of the floor. It is also the only place from which you can look down into the debating chamber from above seeing part of the inside of the glass dome.

Back on the visitors’ floor some chairs from the original Bundestag building in Bonn are on display as is a copy of the signed constitution of the Bundesrepublik formed in 1949.

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