Saturday, April 3, 2010

Der deutsche Bundestag

[ The German Parliament ]

Like the rest of the city of Berlin, the Bundestag building told its own story. Leaving from the office of Dr. Knopek just shortly after arriving, I was already on my way to lunch with the other coworkers of the office. One was Dr. Knopek's assistant for Umweltpolitik - Environmental politics, and the other was responsible for Sportpolitik.

Now eating in the Bundestag cafeteria wouldn't seem like anything extremely special - in fact it is just a normal cafeteria with very cafeteria-like food. However, the realization the all the people there - some clad in expensive, flashy suits, to others just in business casual with a simple button up and dark jeans - was part of some function of the huge political machine that was the Bundestag was an exciting thought.

The Bundestag was like a machine. From the outside, the cluster of buildings seems to be a block or two surrounding the Cupola-adorned Reichstag building lined with many political offices. In fact, almost all of these buildings are linked underground or from overpassing bridges over the streets, - a big, interwoven political hub.

[ The Paul Löbe Hall - a massive naturally lit hall, lined by glass walls, complete with cylindrical towers the hold many small round circle meetings - an overall view that seems like the engines of the machine that is the German Bundestag. ]

Upon visiting different meetings in different parts of the Bundestag, I would also catch myself taking double takes as I realized that I was now in a completely different building, facing a different angle of the Spree river that runs through the complex. The many opportunities to view outside of the buildings is not an understatement, since glass is such a prominent part of all of their construction. I was definitely experiencing a different Berlin this time around. My last trip had me touring through Berlin and wondering how, amongst a city overrun by construction, the sleek and ultra-modern glass, geometric buildings of the Bundestag fit together.

Now, looking from the inside out, the glass gave a very transient feeling to outside Berlin. The huge glass walls were intended to stress the openness of the government for its people. I had to make note that from this side of the glass, now looking out over sprawling Berlin, it was me that looked like part of the anthill colony scurrying around in the big glass blocks and domes.

While crossing one bridge to arrive in another building, the assistant I was walking with asked if I wanted a photo, and after the way she described where we were standing, she practically set me up to have to brag about it later. There is a very thin bridge that connects two white buildings bordering the Spree. One fascinated me before with it behemoth circular window on the side of the geometric prism. This bridge that I was now crossing is visibly seen by everyone, but the fact that I was crossing it had everything to do with that Bundestag badge I was wearing - I was only accessible by employees - pretty exclusive.

The accentuated the fact that I was seeing a Berlin that was not available to any normal tourist, and had me very appreciative of the unique experience I was having in Germany as a PPP scholar. Elena, the assistant that I was with, opened my eyes further to some of the thoughts that crossed my mind last time I was in Berlin. Elena was born and raised in Berlin, and revealed to me with a sense of pride that she grew up in West Germany, in the American sector.
Once again, this was one of those moments where history isn't just in a book or on a placard in a museum. It was living all around me.

The idea of knowing a city, and in two decades it is undeniably completely transformed is still incredible to me. From the view of this bridge, the memorial etching of the Berlin wall - heading right to its border on the river - was visible from above. Visual, translucent, a little vulnerable, yet also majestic, modern and confident, the Bundestag was only adding to my contradictory list of adjectives to describe Berlin, and after all these overwhelming observations, I hadn't even made it to my first sitting at an official Bundestag meeting yet.