Postcard from Berlin: Reichstag
Germany's main parliament building has a chequered history, and a huge glass dome on its roof. Opened in 1894, the Reichstag acted as the political hub of the German Empire (and later the Weimar Republic) until gutted by a suspicious fire in 1933. Under Nazi rule government moved elsewhere, and bombing raids during World War 2 left the interior essentially in ruins. The building's location slap bang against the Berlin Wall precluded its use during the Cold War, with the German capital temporarily relocating to Bonn. But with reunification came rebirth, courtesy of architect Norman Foster, and Angela Merkel and friends now hang out and legislate here on the banks of the Spree.
The Reichstag is also Germany's second popular tourist attraction (some distance behind Cologne Cathedral), thanks in no small part to the replacement dome that Norman added. This glass construction contains a twin-spiral ramp inside, allowing visitors to walk slowly to the top and look down over a) Berlin b) the parliament chamber below. Foster would later reuse the idea, on a less grand scale, for the interior of City Hall in London. Ascent of the dome is free, but visitors have to register at least two hours in advance, either on the official website or in person at the ticket office out front. BestMate and I tried booking way back in March only to be told that every slot during our stay had already been taken, for which we blamed the neighbouring football festival, so had to content ourselves with standing out front (beneath the "Dem Deutschen Volke" inscription) and takingphotos. You should plan your visit more carefully.
Beneath a vast adjacent piazza is Bundestag, Berlin's most recently-opened U-bahn station. Opened in 2009, construction of the station was actually completed in 1994 as part of the creation of a new modern government complex hereabouts. Alas the city's finances ran out before the extension of a previous line (U5) could be completed, so for now only a short shuttle section (branded U55) is open. A single two-carriage train ferries not many people between the Brandenburg Gate and the multi-storey Hauptbahnhof, with Bundestag the sole intermediate station. Only one platform of its cavernous concrete interior is currently in use, and I managed to walk through from one end to the other without a single other passenger appearing. On weekdays perhaps, and once the U5's major works under Unter Den Linden are complete definitely, the platforms here will be busier.