On Sunday, 7 September 2014, the Bundestag opened its doors to the public for the eleventh time. Crowds of visitors used the Open Day to visit the Reichstag Building, Paul Löbe Building and Marie-Elisabeth Lüders Building and gain a direct impression of the work of Parliament. They were able to see at first hand things which many citizens have not direct contact with, hearing about them only through the media. A total of 23,500 visitors took a look behind the scenes – finding out more about committee meetings, the plenary chamber or the Ukraine conflict.
Warm and sunny weather on a historic day
“We have laid out the red carpet for you. Get to know Parliament, the heart of our democracy“, said Bundestag Vice-President Johannes Singhammer (CDU/CSU) in a welcome address to around 200 visitors in front of the Reichstag Building’s west portal, “on this particularly significant historic date” – since the Bundestag was celebrating its 65th anniversary. On 7 September 1949, the Bundestag met for its first sitting and, since then, “a great deal has happened”.
In the Members’ lobby, visitors were able to admire an impressive photo exhibition on the history of the Bundestag and its plenary chambers. Mr Singhammer offered all guests the opportunity to find out more about the machinery of politics and take a look at the workplace of Members of the Bundestag. Amidst bright sunshine, a brass band from Köpenick played well-known Beatles songs, prompting some of the guests to join in.
International visitors discover the Bundestag
Lots of international visitors had come, keen to gain an authentic insight into German politics. “This would never happen in London”, commented Ms Brownlie from England. The young history student was most impressed, since she had only read about the Reichstag in her books and yet, now, was able to explore it herself. Marta Borgosz from Poland was already on her seventh visit to Berlin, but had previously never managed to visit the Bundestag. This had now been possible, together with her mother and son. She was overwhelmed by the dome and the view of the city.
Likewise, Imani Mufti (20), visiting from Pakistan, was enthusiastic about the multi-faith chapel, a room he had just seen which is available to followers of all the three big religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – to pursue their faith. “That’s awesome and the Bundestag shows a lot of respect and tolerance for the religions. I think this kind of room of silence should be available in every parliament in the world.”
Talking to politicians “in the flesh”
Meanwhile, beyond the multi-faith chapel, Bundestag Vice-President Claudia Roth (Alliance 90/The Greens) explained the history of the “federal eagle” hanging above the plenary chamber, along with the chamber’s functions and the way it is divided up. Visitors were also welcome to take with them documents deliberated on by Parliament and, on the fourth-floor of the Reichstag, listen to explanations by all four parliamentary groups of how they work.
At the same time in the Paul Löbe Building, the first panel discussion of the day took place, with members of the Finance Committee, concerning topical issues in tax and finance policy. The audience listened attentively during the discussion with the committee members. The most burning question that the guests wanted answered was: “when are taxes going be cut?”
Music, art and fun for children
The corner reserved for children was crowded: children with their faces painted in bright colours, with huge balloons in tow, ran back and forth between the various stands provided by the Bundestag Administration in the Paul Löbe Building. Visitors were able to enjoy the Open Day until 8 p.m. Art fans were treated to a fascinating guided tour around the Bundestag buildings, taking in works by Neo Rauch, Richter and Beuys.
Approaching history with great openness
Many visitors paused to look at the Cyrillic writing on the walls of the Reichstag Building, putting enthusiastic questions to the Visitors’ Service. For Wilhelm Neitzel (79) this was an emotional moment, as he stood in front of walls scribbled on by soldiers from the Soviet Army using charcoal in the aftermath of victory over Hitler’s Germany in 1945. His father was killed in the war, his family expelled from Poland. Today, he lives in Heringsdorf on the Baltic Sea coast, in order to be close to his childhood home.
This was his first visit to the Bundestag and he would scarcely have imagined that history could be recounted and encountered in such a lively fashion. He was deeply moved by the fact that Germany was approaching its history with such great openness. The first tour of artwork was about to begin, to be followed by a guided tour of the parliamentary archives and the library. “I want to take as much away with me as possible. I came to Berlin specially today.” Mr Neitzel has planned a busy and exciting schedule for his first visit to the German Bundestag. (abb/07.09.2014)