The day began with a trip to the Reichstag building, the home of the Bundestag: the German Parliament. The Reichstag building has a rich history dating back to the late nineteenth century. It has been the home of the German Parliament under three different forms of government: the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, and now under the modern German government. In 1933, the building was badly damaged by fire, which the Nazi government used as an opportunity to suspend regular meetings of the Reichstag Parliament. The building fell into disuse during the Cold War and was badly damaged in World War II by Soviet forces. However, after German reunification in the 1990s, the parliament relocated from Bonn to Berlin, and the building was restored to become the home of the Bundestag. When we visited, the parliament was not in session, but we were still able to take a trip to the top of the building to enjoy the panoramic views of Berlin.
The glass dome at the top of the Reichstag building was added when the building was restored in the 1990s. While the dome was closed for cleaning when we visited, we were still able to see the outside of the dome. The glass dome offers 360 degree view of the city, along with a history of the building. Inside the dome, there is a direct view into the meeting chamber of the Bundestag. This is intended to represent transparency to the public, and remind the parliament that the public is always watching. Anyone can visit the dome and the top of the building, even if the parliament is in session.
The second trip of the day was to the German Foreign Ministry. However, during our break between our visit to the Reichstag and the Foreign Ministry, Dr. Weber guided us to a memorial to those who had lost their lives trying to escape East Berlin during the Cold War. Located near the Brandenburg Gate, this memorial is made up of white crosses with the names of those killed and the dates they died. This memorial reminded us all of what length people were willing to go to in order to escape the Communist regime in Eastern Berlin.
We arrived at the German Foreign Ministry, the building has gardens all through out it, including one on the roof of the building. We were briefed by a young German diplomat who explained German foreign policy in a variety of areas during an hour long Q&A. We were able to discuss many different issues, including the strained relationship between Angela Merkel and Donald Trump, the Nordstrom Two Pipeline, and German military objectives such as the 2% NATO spending target.
These two visits gave us a brief glimpse into the workings of the German political system and the changing transatlantic relationship. Not only that, they also provided us an understanding of the German place in the world, including the relationship between Germany and the EU, Germany and the Middle East, and Germany in Africa. When discussing German roles in different arenas, we were able to better understand how the country takes an active roles in some areas, but remains neutral in others. For example, when discussing peace in the Middle East, Germany takes a very passive position due to complicated relations with Israel, but supplies Israel with non-nuclear submarines. However, when dealing with the European Union, Germany is more likely to push Brussels to achieve their specific policy objectives.
After visiting both the French and German foreign ministries, it is clear why these two nations are known as the “Twin Engines” of the European Union. The two most important founding members of the EU must work together on a variety of complex issues to help the EU be as efficient as possible. Because these two nations do differ on a variety of issues, the relationship between them is complex and ever-changing. As the diplomat mentioned, the relationship between Germany and France has been reinvigorated by the election of Emmanuel Macron due to Macron’s pro-EU stance. The diplomat even pointed to Macron’s walking out to “Ode to Joy” as an omen for future EU cooperation between the two pro-EU nations. After visiting Brussels, Paris, and Berlin, it is clear that these three cities are vital to the every day and long term functions of the EU, and they are at the heart of global and European issues.