Tag Archives: government

The Reichstag

The History of Germany within a building.

The Reichstag is a building that has as much history as the country it represents. In the Heart of Berlin, Germany’s Capital, there is a massive stone building that holds Germany’s Federal Government. It was built in the late 19th century, and has laid witness to the incredible history that has taken place in Berlin since then. It was constructed at the beginning of the unification of the German States into one Federation, which would be ruled by Wilhelm of Prussia.

The federation was formed in 1871, but construction of the building didn’t start until 1882. There was an architect picked to design the building in 1872, but Wilhelm I would argue with Otto von Bismarck to the extent that all progress was halted. In 1882, another architect named Paul Wallot was chosen to design the building. His design was the one that would become a reality, and aspects of the buildings are still relevant today.

This is an side view of the building. It was important to note that the German flag flies right next to the European Union Flag on the building. Germany is very influential in the EU, and it is an important symbol for the German people.

The most noticeable part of the building are the four towers. Each tower represents a kingdom of Germany, and the statues on the pillars were intended to be representations of people from each region. Another architectural `feature of the building that was done in the original construction is the carved paneling that boarder the doors. These panels represent the two rivers that border Germany, the Rhine to the west and the Neisse to the east. This was supposed to be a symbolic entrance into Germany.

Wall carvings that represent the Rhine river. It is located just outside the door to represent a border for Germany. The other side of the door has a representation of the Niesse River.

Not everything on the building was originally planned to be there. On the upper façade of the building there is the phrase, “Dem Deutschen Volke”. This translates to, “for the German people”, and was a controversial addition. In the heat of the first world war, there was low moral on the battlefield, and within Germany. The Federal government had the idea to add this phrase to inspire the German people. However, Wilhelm II fought hard to keep it off the building due to its democratic implications. He eventually lost this battle, and the words were added in 1916.

The “Dem Deutchen Volke” means “for the german people.” It was added during WWI as moral booster for the the weary soldiers. King Willhelm was very against this addition.

After the war, Germany had a small revolution and the Weimar republic was created. Phillip Sheidemann, a German politician, actually declared Germany a republic from the balcony of the Reichstag. This building stayed the federal government during the years of the Weimar republic. After the Weimar Republic, the Nazis took control of Germany and thus the Reichstag. At the beginning of Nazi rule, the Reichstag caught fire with unknown causes. This gave the Nazis an excuse to basically decommission the building. This fit in with shutting down the German government I its current form. It was hardly used during the Nazi reign, but it still served as symbol for Germany. The soviets were keen on taking this building over as the final blow to the Nazis. The soviets actually lost rights to the building in the division of Berlin.

The Reichstag was in the West side of Berlin, but it was very close to east Berlin. West Germany had no need for a parliamentary building in West Berlin, so it was used mostly as event space. It was restored during this time to fix damages from the war. The fall of the wall saw a new future for the building.

This is one of the four towers on the building. They each represent a major region of germany that came together in the Unification. The towers have carvings and sculptures that represent things that come from that region.

The ceremony celebrating the reunification was held at the Reichstag, and it became the center of the city again. There was an argument of whether or not to bring the government back to Berlin from Bonn. After much deliberation, they decided to make Berlin the Capital yet again, and The Reichstag could return to its original purpose of holding the federal government. The Reichstag has witnessed an incredible amount of change, and still remains a marquee building for German culture.

-Matthew Bravante

The Hague: the Seat of the Dutch Parliament

An Introduction to the Hague and the Dutch Government

We began our first day in the Hague on our bicycles (which, little did we know at the time, would become our primary mode of travel while in the Netherlands) and set out from our hotel in a long line following our professor Cor Rademaker. We made a few stops on the way to our destination in order to become better acquainted with the new city, including a look at a small part of the Hague’s extensive canal system which is currently under renovation and one of the city’s underground tram stations.

Students gather on their bicycles at their hotel, preparing to begin their first day in the Netherlands.

We eventually arrived at the Binnenhof (a Dutch word which translates to “Inner Court”), a collection of buildings that house much of the Dutch government, including the office of the Prime Minister as well as the meeting place of both houses of the Dutch parliament, the States General of the Netherlands. Among these structures is the façade of the Ridderzaal, an old hunting castle built by Count William II during the 13th century. William II was a Count of Holland and crowned as a roman king, and was even considered a candidate for the next emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, though he was ultimately assassinated before he could assume the role. A fountain in the center of the Binnenhof features a golden statue of William II.

A fountain featuring a golden statue of William II in the Binnenhof across from the hunting castle he had built during the 13th century. A student stands in awe of his greatness.

Today the Ridderzaal is still used for mostly ceremonial purposes. The former reception hall of the Count, the Hall of Knights, is now used for the Dutch monarch’s annual “speech from the throne” which outlines the government’s agenda for the following year. The speech is given on the third Tuesday of September each year on Prinsjesdag (which means “Prince’s Day”) during a joint session of the States General, which includes both houses of parliament, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The ceiling of the hall is adorned with somewhat intimidating wooden heads, “eavesdroppers” who listen vigilantly to whatever is being said by an assembly member to the presiding authority in order to dissuade them from lying.

The Hall of Knights in the Ridderzaal, where the King gives his annual “speech from the throne.” All the red, gold, and lions adorning the room appear to pronounce his status as a Gryffindor, but that might just be me.
The “eavesdroppers” in the Hall of Knights, whose presence holds assembly members accountable and dissuades them from lying.

After visiting the Hall of Knights we were led on a guided tour into the meeting chamber of the Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal (the Lower House of the States General). Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures while inside as the security around the building is very intensive, but we were allowed to get a relatively close look at the environment within which the Dutch government conducts its business. Like the United States, the Netherlands has a bicameral legislature; however, because the latter is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system, the roles of Head of State and Head of Government are divided between a monarch and a Prime Minister, whereas in the US both roles are assumed by a President.

Outside of the assembly chamber of the Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal (the Lower House of the States General). As this is the seat of the Dutch government, security is tight.

As we departed from the Binnenhof to get lunch we passed by the Hofvijver, a large pond adjacent to the Binnenhof as well as the Mauritshuis, a state museum housing the works of many prominent artists including Vermeer and Rembrandt. On the pond I saw the first of many displays of the art style of Piet Mondriaan, a Dutch painter known for combining the colors red, yellow, and blue in an array of four-sided shapes. Mondriaan’s art can be seen all over the city; I also noticed it in the cafeteria of a gift shop near the Binnenhof, on a storefront in a shopping center we passed through, and even on the façade of a building.

A tribute to the art style of Piet Mondriaan on the Hofvijver, a large pond next to the Binnenhof.

-Amanda Peele