“Whoa! Look at that glow! I’ve never seen it like this before!” I chatter, bouncing in place as the red signal glares across the street. Shadows are beginning to form at the bottom of the Berliner Dom.
Green flashes and J laughs as I sprint across the stripes. Snap. Snap. Snap.
“I’m going to the top! I want to see the city lit by the sunset!”
Huffing up the steps while begging my legs to carry me to the top in time I dash onto the first layer of the viewing deck. Where’s the exit? Where? Where? Where? There! With a twist of the final doorknob I stumble into the sky.
The few souls willing to brave the cooling air and narrow steps to the open viewing platform pay me no mind as I carefully push by. Moments later, as the sun wanders to the edge of the skyline, I put down my camera with a content sigh. When J wanders up in the dying light and wraps me in her arms nothing could make the moment more perfect.
Berlin is aglow. The gentle tune of a tiny accordian player floats up from a nearby bridge. A distant ferris wheel splashes its vivid colours on the urban landscape. And as the last rays of light kiss the city a flurry of crows alight and dance in celebration of the coming night.
Welcome To The City Of The Bear
Insert “Berlin” into Google images and you’ll find an endless parade of the Fernsehturm de Berlín (TV Tower of Berlin), peppered by the Brandenburgh gate and a smatter of the Reichstag Building (hereafter the Reichstag even though I know the word refers to the ‘imperial parliament’ and not the building itself).
Most people know about the Reichstag, and if they don’t they quickly learn about it once they reach Berlin. Among the city’s favourite iconic monuments it usually hovers between first and third. Its proud face can be found looming next to the equally impressive East Side Gallery (a massive remnant of the Berlin Wall), Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Charlottenburg Palace.
Nonetheless, despite all this fanfare, I think the best site in Berlin is the Berliner Dom. And I’ll prove it!
The Berliner Dom, known as the Berlin Cathedral in English (though officially named the Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church), is a Protestant Church located in the beautiful Museum Island – an area set aside for ‘art and science’ by King Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1841.
The Reichstag is where the modern German Bundestag (parliament) convenes and debates.
Here We Go: 10 Reasons Why The Berliner Dom Is Cooler Than The Reichstag Building
1) The Reichstag features scars, bullet holes and graffiti from its history with the Nazi rule within Berlin.
In more detail it is famous for being set on fire in 1933 – which the Nazis’ used as an excuse to begin restricting rights – and it was ravaged by the Soviet Red Army when it seized the building years later in 1945, after the Battle For Berlin.
Does the Reichstag have a crypt in its basement?
Known as the Hohenzollern family tomb, over ninety sarcophagi and tombs are on display in the Berliner Dom. This includes the impressively gold-plated tin and lead tombs created by Andreas Schlüter for the Prussian Royalty – Friedrich I and Sophie Charlotte!
If you are looking for something different to discuss at parties, then the difference between Philipp Wilhelm’s and Johann Georg I’s coffin would probably make for a fascinating debate. Is piety better represented by a simple, unadorned coffin? Or a gilded one?
A tour of the crypt really brings to life a curiosity about death and how our view of it changes over the ages.
2) You can get a pretty nice view from the top of the Reichstag’s dome.
This lovely panoramic view is marred by the dome’s frame and the observation deck only rises to about 47 meters.
The Berliner Dom’s 365 degree view of the city skyline is almost completely uninterrupted because it’s out in the open air and you’re lifted to just under a lofty 116 meters! You’re literally standing among the angels at this height.
3) Speaking of height, you totally have to climb to the top of the Berliner Dom under your own power and that means plenty of exercise!
You’ll love the burn after 270 steps because your reward will be health and an astounding view! Don’t worry about being bored either, every floor features a new perspective on the church and its history.
4) The Reichstag features a wonderful ‘light sculpture’.
The Reichstag’s restoration implementation a series of marvelous environmentally forward ideas, such as its central ‘light sculpture’ which overcomes the use of traditional energy methods by capturing and directing sunlight. It’s lit and heated via this sculpture while other energy needs are met by the use of bio-fuel.
Wow this design is really trying to win over the public!
The Berliner Dom wins the title of ‘trying too hard’ with its impressive congregation of artistic architecture.
Described as being “too ostentatious, the expression of imperial ‘Byzantinism’ and ‘showmanship’” and “incredibly bombastic and overscaled like many of the Imperial buildings of Wilhelm II’s reign” the Berliner Dom is like the Pyramids of Giza of Berlin. Wonderful, and maybe a tad excessive.
The dome alone features a collection of 39-square-meter large mosaics comprised of over 500,000 tiles in approximately 2,000 different shades of color (phew, too many numbers).
5) The Reichstag is so popular you will be greeted by lines.
Long lines. Need I say more? They do have a new scheduling system in place, but even for that you have to stand in line… in person or online.
The Berliner Dom doesn’t draw such crazy crowds!
And since visitors are encouraged to explore most of the building in a loop (instead of being funneled to and from a centre point) people are spread out more. You get to lean back and gape at the dome, admire the remnants of its creation, spiral up the stairs, admire the dome from quiet alcoves, circle around the top and finish off by descending into the crypt in the basement.
6) If you like following royal gossip, this should be a game changer!
Amusingly Kaiser Wilhelm II absolutely hated the Reichstag, calling it the “pinnacle of bad taste”. The famous line above the entrance, ‘Dem deutschen Volke’ (To the German people), was not added until 1916 because he wouldn’t allow it AND he referred to it as the Reichsaffenhaus (imperial ape house).
Maybe he was a fan of the Raczyński Palace which was demolished to make room for the Reichstag?
Wilhelm II endorsed the Berliner Dom.
Probably because he finished building it for Wilhelm I. Plus it was heavily connected to his family name.
7) The Reichstag was conceived in 1881 under Wilhelm I – a modern building to house the new German parliament – and Wilhelm II inaugurated the place in 1884, but it took two architectural contests, 303 designs and 10 years to reach that point.
A previous plan was slowed when Wilhelm I and the members of the Reichstag couldn’t agree and issues arose over buying the land.
8) While the final building of both are indeed masterpieces, their evolution is thrilling as well.
Before the Reichstag building was constructed the parliament met in several buildings on Leipziger street, but eventually something bigger was needed. You can see the growth, death and rebirth of the Reichstag here. It experienced a massive fire in 1933, bombs and vandalism up to 1945 and complete abandonment for around 28 years.
It only reached complete reconstruction (with a new dome) in 1999, 115 years after its foundation stone was set down by Wilhelm I.
The Berliner Dom has been evolving since 1465!
It’s so cool when you realize the site your standing on has been progressing for over 551 years.
While the Reichstag was built for practical reasons, the Berliner Dom we know today was built purely for boasting purposes. Constructed to be a counter to the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, Wilhelm I and II’s second-to-last reincarnation of the church was being planned a mere three years after its predecessor had been completely renovated! Not to mention this previous cathedral (commissioned by Frederick the Great) was only 75-years-old.
In comparison the pre-predecessor of the Berliner Dom, the St. Erasmus Chapel, was 282-years-old when it was replaced by Fredrick’s commission.
All of this advancement was extensively damaged during WWII though. The Berliner Dom lost its alter windows in 1940 and its famous dome in 1944 when a liquid incendiary bomb engulfed it in fire. The restoration of the entire building was only completed in 2002, 108 years after its foundations were first set!
9) Sure the Reichstag allows you to look down on the parliament while it’s in session.
The accoustics are to die for in the Berliner Dom and when someone is playing the organ you really do wonder if the building hosts the divine.
10) Ok I’ll give this one to the Reichstag. The Berliner Dom costs 7.oo euros to enter.
The Reichstag has free entry!
On an additional note, both sites hold astonishing collections of art.
In the end I’m really a fan of both sites. I love the forward-thinking embodied by the Reichstag’s renovations and I equally adore the perpetuation sought within the Berliner Dom’s restorations. If you have the time I recommend visiting both.
If you only have a small window, pick the Berliner Dom. Less hassle for something that will draw you back everytime you visit Berlin!