More than any other capital city in the world, Berlin has a dense history of failures, abuses, revolutions, divisions and surprising renewal as one of Europe's most important political and economic centers. It is the fascination of the bird Phoenix who has the infinite strength to come back to life again and again, against all odds.
My passion for history and architecture is fully rewarded in this multi-faceted city, and every time I am around the main Berlin - and German institutions - it is something new to learn or admire, at least in terms of artistic achievement. After years of research and many visits later, I am happy to introduce you the best of institutional architecture in Berlin.
German Bundestag (Central Parliament)
The most visited Parliament in the world, the Bundestag is nowadays famous for its transparent cupola designed by the British architect Lord Norman Foster. Almost 6,000 registered visitors are admiring the world from the top of the building every day. Entry is free, but registration is required online. During the usual working days, the visitors can watch the German MPs at work, through the transparent ceiling. The symbol is clear: German democracy nowadays is open to the public scrutiny, an anti-thesis to the black years of the National-Socialist dictatorship during which this place used to be the epitome of abuse.
I visited this place several times, including as part of a cultural diplomacy internship I took, and every time I've found interesting sides to explore: from the rich library, to the inscriptions left on the walls by the Soviet soldiers or the impressive collection of modern art displayed in various open spaces.
The original building was inaugurated by Kaiser Wilhelm the IInd in December 1894, after 10 years of construction work. Build in the style of the Italian Renaissance, it covers around 13,290 sqm. and was bordered on the top by 4 40-meter towers. The motto: 'Dem Deutschen Volke' - 'To the German People' is still visible on the front of the main entrance. During the WWII bombings, the building was partially destroyed, and the Soviet flag on the top of it become part of the post-war Soviet iconography associated with the end of the war. You can have an extensive look at it at the German-Russian Museum in Karlshorst that I re-visited recently.
In the post-war time, the various political committees of the communist Germany met here once in a while, and the building was reconstructed, although in a relatively simplified way. On 4 October 1990, members of the Bundestag and of the then People's Chamber of the GDR met in plenary session here for the first time.
Inaugurated in 2001 under the late Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellery hosting the operational apparatus of the German chancellor - head of the Government - is the largest governmental headquarters in the world. Ten times bigger than the White House, it was designed by the German architects Charlotte Frank and Axel Schulters, who also authorshiped the plans of the Kunstmuseum Bonn.
I personally found it impressive as an architectural presence which requests your attention. It combines both modern and post-modern elements, in an unique display of what the political analysts call soft - cultural - and hard - political power.
The premises can be visited only during the open doors events, taking place usually in August. For a best view over the entire complex, I recommend taking a boat tour which beautifully outlines the historical architectural layers of the central part of the city, near the Spree River.
Regardless of the angle, the massive construction looks fascinating deserving at least one nickname given by the media: Kohllosseum - a combination between the name of the chancellor during which it was inaugurated and Collosseum (others being: Bundeswaschmashine, federal laundry machine given the shape similarities with machine, or Elefanthenklo, elephant toilet)
The three-wing ensemble of the Bundesrat, located since 2000 in Leipzigerstraße, with its over 100 years of history, is a fascinating presence for me, particularly for the perfectly manicured and organised garden. Bundesrat is one of the five constitutional bodies of Germany, being the headquarters of the representatives of the federal states - Länder. Severely destroyed during the war, it was used in the time of the GDR for various communist institutions and political bodies.
The building can be visited with organised groups, by request.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The headquarters of the efficient and complicated German diplomacy are hosted in the Haus am Werdescher Markt, a building with a story as complex as its architectural appearance. Built in 1940 as an extension of the Reichsbank, it was after the war for short time the building of the Ministry of Finance, and from 1959 until 1989 the address for SED, the GDR communist party, the main control center of the communist Germany. After the end of the SED dictatorship, here the newly elected MPs of the GDR approved here the Treaty on the Establishment of the German Unity. The Federal Foreign Office was moved here in 1999.
If you have a careful look at the ensemble, you might conclude that in fact, this anonymous shell of the fassade goes very well with all the functions assigned to this building in the last century: secretive enough to hide the gold reserves of a dictatorship, proletarian and simple in structure for the policies of the German communists and discrete yet strong to lead the foreign policy directions of the 21st century.
If you are interested to take part in public lectures or other open events, there is a Visitor Center on Werdescher Platz 1, where available information can be offered.
Schloss Bellevue - The President's Office
The classical building of the president's office - Schloss Bellevue - 10 minutes away by foot from the S-Bahn station with the same name, is a favorite selfie background for the tourists heading back and forth around the Siegessäule and Tiergarten.
The temperate mix between Baroque and Classic architecture offers a perfect visual manifesto of the role of the president in Germany's political design: a ceremonial role of representation, a neutral player beyond the day-to-day politics.
A visit to the President's office is possible only during the Open Days, usually organised in the first half of September, and I recommend to anyone who would love to see the castle from inside, including the beautiful huge gardens, the perfect place to take a break slowly walking in-between official assignments.
The castle was built in 1785 following the plans of Michael Philipp Boumann, as the first classical building in Prussia, for the Prince Ferdinand of Prussia who welcomed here, among others Napoleon or the brothers Humboldt and the poet Friedrich Schiller. Since 1844, here was hosted the 'Country Gallery', which preceded the National Gallery.
After the re-unification, the Schloss Bellevue was assigned for the president's duties, here being welcomed the new ambassadors or the chief of states visiting Germany. The building is classified as historical memorial and original paintings and artifacts are taken care of, as elements of national patrimony. The elegance of the furniture is completed by the exquisite Oriental carpets and the flower arrangements. The flowers do play an important role in the overall organisation of the interior design, with the one in the entry hall being often matched to the colours of the national flags of the visitors from abroad received by the president.
The Big Hall - Großer Saal - is the biggest space of the castle, where state dinners, big political meetings, price awarding ceremonies and other big events are taking place. The hall has a capacity of 100-150 persons, and is bordered by two massive paintings by the German artist Gotthard Graubner. Besides the classical paintings of the castle - some of them, as in the case of the furniture, loans from state museums - there is also an impressive collection of modern German art, signed, among others by Fritz Winter and Theodor Werner.
The castle kitchen is situated in the Southern part of the hall, the cooking team always offering to the distinguished guests regional and seasonal products, as well as wines from Germany.
Langhanssaal, named after the architect Carl Gotthard Langhans who designed it in 1791, is the only one room of the castle reconstructed in its original form. It is bordered by Corinthian collumns with two fireplaces . Initially the dancing hall of the castle, nowadays it is used for the accreditation of foreign ambassadors, or for the New Year ceremony. Also a kind of special dance taking place here nowadays, isn't it?
The last room to look at before leaving the castle: the president's working room, where the official guests are received for discussions. On the back, a painting by Canaletto, loaned from Dresden State Museum 'Dresden from the right bank of the Elbe from down underr the Augustus bridge', an Italian view over a German landscape. The small white door on the left side leads to the offices of the presidents' aides where the main working meetings of the president with his staffare taking place.
I was really grateful for the one in a year opportunity of having a look at this impressive building, full of histories and works of art. Such encounters give substance to the institutional architecture and creates a bridge to the public, tax payers or just passers-by around, keen to take a selfie with the classical building in the background.