The decision to move Germany's government seat from Bonn to Berlin by the year 2000 poses an epic architectural challenge and has fostered an international debate on which building styles are appropriate to represent German national identity. Capital Dilemma investigates the political decisions and historical events behind the redesign of Berlin's official architecture. It tells a complex and exciting drama of politics, memory, cultural values, and architecture, in which Helmut Kohl, Albert Speer, Sir Norman Foster, and I. M. Pei all figure as players.
If capital city design projects are symbols of national identity and historical consciousness, Berlin is the supreme example. In fact, architecture has played a pivotal role throughout Germany's turbulent twentieth-century history. After the fall of the monarchy, Germany gave birth to the Bauhaus, whose founders argued that their own revolutionary designs could shape human destiny. The century's warring ideologies, Nazism and Communism, also used architecture for their own political ends. In its latest incarnation, Berlin will become the capital of the fifth German state in this century to be ruled from that city. How will the official architecture of reunified Berlin, a democratic capital being built amid totalitarian remains, be different this time around? The Federal Republic of Germany, a highly stable democracy in stark contrast to its predecessors, has been struggling with burdensome architectural legacies. In the process, it has considered remedies as varied as outright destruction, refurbishment, and, in the case of the former Nazi Central Bank now being converted into the new Foreign Ministry, physical concealment.
|Publisher:||Princeton Architectural Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Michael Z. Wise covered Central Europe for Reuters and the Washington Post. He has also written for the New York Times, the Economist, the New Republic, the Atlantic Monthly, and ARTnews.
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BONN: CAPITAL OF SELF-EFFACEMENT
Aside from the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, who moved away as soon as he was old enough to do so, little of historical significance occurred in Bonn before May 10, 1949. Then, shortly before midnight, West German politicians proclaimed the tranquil Rhineland town to be their provisional capital. It was precisely this lack of history that made it so appealing. "Bonn was a beginning, a city without a past" recalled West Germany's founding Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.
Governing from the historic capital of Berlin was out of the question for the time being since it was occupied by the World War II victors and encircled by a communist stronghold under Soviet control. The decision for Bonn came in a narrow vote of thirty-three to twenty-nine, taken by the West German Parliamentary Council, forerunner to the government of the Federal Republic of Germany. Compared to the alternative choice, the commercial and banking center of Frankfurt, sleepy Bonn was considered less likely to pose any claim to being more than a way station. This added to its allure in the eyes of those bent on reunifying the country and moving the government back to Berlin as soon as possible. A more prosaic factor also played a decisive role in Bonn's selection--Adenauer had a comfortable country house in a nearby village.
Bonn was an odd and implausible capital city, given the degree of power that came to be concentrated there. It did have a mid-sized university, but, unlike London or Paris, it boasted no major museum or cultural institution. Although its population swelled to 300,000 due to the influx of politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, journalists, and diplomats from around the globe, it never acquired cosmopolitan flair or urbanity during its nearly half a century as government seat. Some of these new residents found Bonn refreshingly quaint; many deemed it an excruciatingly dull backwater. The high-ranking visitors who came calling, a lengthy roster including U.S. presidents, European premiers, the queen of England, and the emperors of Iran, Ethiopia, and Japan, were accustomed to being received in far grander premises. "One of the strangest capitals of the twentieth century" commented the New York Herald Tribune when President Dwight D. Eisenhower paid a state visit in 1959. During the 1960s, English envoys referred to the British Embassy in Bonn as "Her Majesty's only mission in a cornfield." A Newsweek correspondent marveled how the magazine's news bureau, a block away from the federal Parliament, "faced a meadow on which a shepherd grazed his flock every Friday afternoon."
Most Germans were initially quite satisfied to have such a low-key capital. Free of Berlin's architectural bombast, Bonn represented a reassuring sign of discontinuity in their troubled history. The symbolic image of the Federal Republic born out of the rubble of fascism was deliberately self-effacing--a renunciation of pretense that amounted to an architectural declaration of "never again." This design approach coincided with a concerted political drive to show that in its democratic reincarnation the fledgling West German state had forsworn all territorial ambitions and merited a return to the ranks of respectable nations. Towards this end, the Bonn government paid billions of dollars in reparations to Holocaust survivors and, under the tutelage of the Allied World War II victors, adopted a severely limited, nonnuclear defense strategy. With astonishing rapidity, the vanquished country diligently rebuilt its infrastructure, developing into an economic giant but a political pygmy. West German politicians, chastened by the calamity of the Third Reich, invoked that self-description with contentment, not regret.
As in every aspect of postwar life, the new West German direction in public architecture followed the dramatic pendulum swing by which many believed--somewhat naively--that Nazism could be overcome by pursuing the opposite of what had until just recently prevailed. Politicians thus located the new national legislature, the Bundestag, inside a prime example of the Bauhaus architecture reviled by the Nazis. The Padagogische Akademie, a former teachers' college, was a building of pure white planes set along the Rhine River south of the town center (see figure 2). Designed by Martin Witte in 1930, its dedication in October 1933 came just months after Hitler took power and created the cultural climate in which a flat-roofed modernist structure like the Akademie could be called by Nazi propagandists "a child of other skies and other blood" Bonn's Nazi mayor derided its architecture for contravening the "German character." But in the dawning days of the Federal Republic, turning this building into a parliament was a signal of contrition and, like the choice of Bonn itself, a demonstrated desire for a new start.
West German leaders met temporarily in the academy's main assembly hall until architect Hans Schwippert, a colleague of Erich Mendelsohn and Mies van der Rohe prior to their flight into exile from the Nazis, added on a larger legislative chamber. The addition featured floor-to-ceiling transparent glass windows running sixty feet along two of its sides and was considered an apt metaphor for the political openness of the new democracy. Schwippert did not invent the link between architectural transparency and an accessible government. The idea dated from the early days of the Modern Movement. As the Bauhaus pioneer Hannes Meyer wrote of his design for the 1927 League of Nations Headquarters competition, "No back corridors for backstairs diplomacy but open glazed rooms for public negotiation of honest men."
The Bonn legislative chamber contained seats for journalists, but it was not big enough to accommodate a public gallery, so temporary bleachers were erected outside. Seated there, spectators strained to follow the proceedings through the windows. Photographs taken at the Bundestag's inaugural session show crowds peering into Schwippert's building as if into an aquarium (see figure 3). Some of the glass panels were left open to enable citizens to hear the debate going on inside. Light streamed through the clear panes, illuminating representatives of a citizenry who just a few years earlier had emerged from gloomy wartime bunkers. "Politics is a dark affair. Let's see to it that we shed some light upon it," observed Schwippert. After twelve years of shadowy dictatorship, the cultivation of an enlightened participatory democracy was the order of the day, and Schwippert saw architecture as a means to achieve this goal. "I wanted the German public to observe parliamentary work," he said a few years after his design was finished. "I wanted a building of openness, an architecture of meeting and discussion."
Comparing the austere Bonn building to the hulking Reichstag in Berlin, to which Germany's parliament will return in 1999, is like weighing a penitent's pup tent against a potentate's palace. Simplicity reigned throughout the Bundestag structure, including in the furnishings that Schwippert designed himself, in keeping with Witte's unadorned academy. Political intent could be read into these furnishings as well. All members of the parliament--from the Bundestag president and government ministers down to the rank-and-file deputies and their secretarial support staff--were provided with the same desk, chairs, and bureau. "Here again there is no borrowing from the past for the sake of prestige; instead there are lightweight devices that are functional and do not conceal," Schwippert said. In a period of postwar shortages and poverty, he steadfastly refused to provide public servants of the humbled nation with grandeur or glamour at the workplace. That, he insisted, could come only "when politics again attains exalted levels. In the meantime, my sense is that this should be a temporary building for a new beginning of political life in Germany."
But the prevailing postwar antipathy to anything vaguely resembling Nazi-era design did not mean that all politicians were sympathetic to Schwippert's inventive solutions. The architect's ideas did not mesh perfectly with his clients' less clearly defined visions. For example, he proposed a circular seating arrangement in the plenary chamber with no speaker's podium; hierarchy would be eliminated by having all representatives speak from their own seats. Adenauer rejected this, preferring a more traditional legislature arranged along the lines of a lecture hall. A chancellor who would eventually campaign for office under the slogan "No experiments!" was naturally disinclined to test drive a circular parliament. "Dr. Adenauer ... thinks that one should not resort to such radical innovations right at the inception of parliamentary work," a Chancellery aide wrote to Schwippert. Though Schwippert's circular plan was defeated, his building was nonetheless highly unconventional for its day, and Bundestag members boasted that it was the world's first "modern" parliament. With time, the circular seating arrangement gained an unusual degree of acceptance in Germany. The Bundestag adopted it some four decades later when it moved into larger quarters in Bonn; four of Germany's provincial legislatures built after 1987 also employed the circular pattern in their own plenary chambers.
The West German government reaffirmed the symbolic return to Bauhaus tradition when it deployed a no-frills modern architecture as an instrument of political statecraft abroad as well as at home. In 1954, the Federal Republic was invited to participate in the 1958 Brussels World Exposition. "After the terrible occurrences, it was very difficult for Germany ... to appear again within the framework of such an international event," said architect Egon Eiermann, who with his colleague Sep Ruf designed the West German Pavilion. "This country had burdened itself with so much guilt that it was very difficult to find the correct tone," Eiermann commented, But he and Ruf hit the right note with a pavilion of eight interlocking cubes, simply framed in glass and steel. The previous time Germany took part in a world exhibition was the 1937 Paris show. There Albert Speer's aggressive pavilion consisted of a towering mass of fluted limestone crowned by a ferocious eagle. Hailing the vivid contrast at Brussels two decades later, the Paris newspaper Le Figaro called Eiermann and Ruf's design a sign that the Germans "have retreated from the colossal and returned to the quiet fold of good European children." Eiermann repeated this success in another sensitive foreign commission, the new West German embassy in Washington, D.C. (see figure 4). Completed in 1964, the mission resembled a stately ocean liner nestled against sloping terrain. Its glass facade was covered in an outer skin of delicate steel railings and wooden sun screens. The humanely proportioned diplomatic outpost projected a welcome spirit of modesty and unassuming elegance, a billboard image for a German state set on changing its ways.
Similar characteristics were in evidence at the official Chancellery residence in Bonn designed by Ruf and dedicated in 1964 (see figure 5). Low-slung and glass-walled, the humbly dubbed Kanzlerbungalow (Chancellor's Bungalow) took Mies van der Rohe's German Pavilion at the 1929 World Exhibition in Barcelona as its inspiration. By reaching back to the Mies design, Ruf sought to give testimony to the Federal Republic's rededication to the democratic ideals of the Weimar Republic. He achieved a building of quiet distinction and style. The open plan and few visible supporting elements gave it a sense of weightlessness. Former Bauhaus director Walter Gropius called the residence a "first-class specimen of German architecture which is highly able to represent to the world the progressive spirit of the German people and their cultural efforts in this day and age." The first chancellor to live there, Ludwig Erhard, delighted in its design and set great stock in its power to broadcast a message. "You will get to know me better by looking around this house, than you possibly will from listening to me give a political speech," he said. But most other chancellors intensely disliked the travertine-floored abode. Adenauer quipped that the building "wouldn't even burn," a feat of which the Reichstag in Berlin had proven eminently capable. Three years after its completion, Chancellor Kurt-Georg Kiesinger ordered the residence's sleek interior appointments replaced with cozier antiques, despite protests by Gropius and other leading architects that the alterations marred the unity of Ruf's design. Willy Brandt refused to move in at all during his term as government chief. His successor Helmut Schmidt restored the classic modern furnishings.
Other branches of the West German government set up quarters in quaint old villas that dotted the Bonn countryside. The presidency was housed in the Villa Hammerschmidt, built by a German industrialist in 1863 on a site just up the river from where the Bundestag held its sessions. Adenauer adapted another former private residence, the Palais Schaunburg, as his Chancellery; he borrowed furniture and paintings from the nearby city of Cologne to decorate its executive offices. Using existing properties and, for a time, even stopgap accommodations like rustic barracks left over from the war was thought to be the most fitting setup for a provisional capital, betokening the official determination to return to Berlin.
West Germany's rehabilitation of Bauhaus design helped create a palatable new national cultural identity since so many other areas of the German artistic legacy were tainted by association with Nazism. The official canonization of what had become a transatlantic architectural idiom also gave expression to the cold-war partnership between the Federal Republic and the United States, where Gropius, Mies, Marcel Breuer, and other Bauhaus veterans had found a haven from fascism. Their success in reestablishing themselves there was so great that Bauhaus-inspired modernism became the house style for corporate America in the late 1950s and 1960s, a period when Washington itself turned to the avatars of the International Style to design a series of new U.S. embassies abroad.
Before the war, Berlin had been not only the governmental capital but also the economic, industrial, and military center of Germany, In response to this, West Germans preferred locating some official entities outside the new government seat as part of a consciously decentralized federated structure. The Bundesbank, the central bank, was established not in Bonn but in Frankfurt. The Federal Constitutional Court, the supreme judicial arbiter, deliberated in Karlsruhe in another modern glass-walled structure. The Federal Crime Agency, the German equivalent of the FBI, sat in Wiesbaden. Whereas Berlin had dominated many aspects of German life, such as the media and the arts, these too became dispersed in the Federal Republic. Hamburg developed as the editorial headquarters for many national news publications, while cultural institutions of national importance arose in cities like Munich and Dusseldorf.
This decentralized format was echoed in the shaping of the capital itself. An aversion to large-scale planning schemes following the Nazi debacle led to a haphazard placement of government entities according to what, owing to Bonu's pastoral calm, was described as a "cows in the pasture" school of urban layout. The government district arose helter-skelter in the vast open fields and sparsely populated residential areas south of the compact, tidy town center around the old university. This district was nicknamed "Spaceship Bonn," for it seemed to have arrived suddenly from a distant planet onto the Rhineland's tabula rasa, liberated from any contextual constraints or historical precedent. Politicians and bureaucrats tended to leave the area deserted on weekends and other periods outside of parliamentary sessions.
In the 1950s, when Germany began to recover from the war and its "economic miracle" was under way, it was becoming clear that Bonn's status as capital was not so temporary after all. West German politicians' pretense of sitting on packed suitcases ready to abandon Bonn at a moment's notice was belied by a building boom that responded to the basic day-to-day needs of a modern government bureaucracy. Other than using a second-rate variant of the modern idiom, little thought was paid to the actual appearance of many ministries. The volume of new construction was inconsistent with Bonn's ethos of design restraint. As West Germany became an increasingly important player in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during the cold war, "provisional" could hardly describe the sprawling complexes built to house key government agencies. A boxy new Foreign Ministry Building loomed over the Rhine; locals dubbed the expansive Defense Ministry Headquarters the "Pentabonn." Parts of the capital seemed to reflect democracy with a barely human face. Anxious to avoid an unwelcome revival of monumentality, an evasively bland functionality held sway, as if by default.
The erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 put an end to any illusions that unification was on the horizon, and so had an impact on Bonn's development. The modest scale used in prestige projects like the Bundestag and the Kanzlerbungalow was most conspicuously flouted in 1966 when parliamentary deputies, weary of the lack of permanent office space in Bonn, constructed a twenty-nine-story office building for themselves and their committees (see figure 6). The tower constituted the first major vertical landmark on the Bonn skyline. Drawn up by Egon Eiermann, its bulk was overlaid in a simple filigree of steel and wood sun shades like that used in his Washington Embassy. But this design was vastly overscaled for its environs, and the lightweight outer skin failed to mask the building's excessive volume. The building became known as "Langer Eugen" (Tall Eugen)--a Germanic counterpart to London's Big Ben--after Bundestag President Eugen Gerstenmaier, during whose tenure it was constructed. The evolving architecture seemed to contradict the vow to return to Berlin. John le Carre noted the jumble in his 1968 thriller A Small Town in Germany, set partly in Bonn, the anomalous capital whose buildings he described as "discreetly temporary in deference to the dream, discreetly permanent in deference to the reality."
Even more fundamental change came in 1969, when the newly elected Chancellor Willy Brandt began pursuing Ostpolitik, detente with Eastern Europe, including East Germany. Brandt argued that while there was one German "nation," this did not preclude the existence of two German states that might at some future date unify peacefully. The earlier rhetoric about a return to Berlin was decidedly toned down. With Brandt's government seeking to coexist with the Communists and reduce tensions between the two Germanys, the chancellor opted for a pragmatic resolution of his own shortage of office space and undertook construction of Bonn's first purpose-built Chancellery Headquarters (see figure 7). It was willfully nondescript. When a design by the Planungsgruppe Stieldorf was chosen out of forty-six proposals, Der Spiegel commented that it was "the plainest of them all."
Many critics thought the bland sobriety of the new Chancellery, completed in 1976, took understatement too far. Sheathed in clear glass and dark bronze-colored aluminum panels, its facade looked little different from any corporate office for BMW or Siemens. Its first occupant, Helmut Schmidt, found that the dull three-story structure had all the charm of a savings bank. It acquired neither an iconic presence in the media nor came to be synonymous with the government chief's position in the manner of the White House or 10 Downing Street. "I certainly did not expect when I first saw it that this was the place where the most powerful country in Europe has its headquarters," the American architect I.M. Pei said after a visit. Far more prominent on the Bonn skyline was the rotating Daimler-Benz emblem atop a new commercial office building across the road from the Chancellery. In the minds of many Germans, this was a more fitting symbol of the Federal Republic's true self-image based on financial stability and material comfort.
But as West Germany grew in economic stature in the 1970s, disappointment arose over the numbing mediocrity of most official architecture in Bonn. Increasingly, there were calls to give the capital a more dignified public facade. Bonn's baroque Town Hall was the most architecturally significant building around, lamented President Walter Scheel at a dinner for the cabinet in 1977. Tourists looked in vain for signs that the slow-paced municipality was the government seat of a leading nation, he said, finding nothing but an array of everyday office buildings that, when examined at closer range, were adorned at their entryways with the federal eagle and a plaque indicating that such and such a ministry was housed there. Imploring government ministers to give the town a more coherent official visage, the president said, "There is a definite connection between Bonn's expansion and the credibility of our democracy; a credibility upon which ultimately our collective freedom depends. Architecture is also a language and I believe that we politicians must ensure that this language, like the language of politics in general, does not become empty jargon that no one wants to see or hear."
As the Communist government in East Berlin and its Wall did not appear ready to vanish, politicians of the economically resurgent Federal Republic seemed intent on taking a new design tack in Bonn. In 1979, Bundestag President Richard Stucklen called for the construction of a new Parliament to replace Schwippert's increasingly cramped refurbished teachers' college. "A democratic state also needs a certain splendor to be attractive," he said. "Only a state with a dignified and confident self-image can enjoy the respect and affection of its citizens." His request signaled a recognition by some politicians that the restrained architecture of Bonn's early years was insufficient to promote a much-needed sense of civic belonging and a healthy form of national identity.
Moves in this direction were made by building major cultural institutions to line the Adenauerallee/Friedrich-Ebert-Allee, the main thoroughfare of Bonn's governmental district. In order to elevate the cultural life of the hum-drum town and display postwar Germany's artistic prowess, the government added the vast Bonn City Art Museum, designed by Axel Schultes, and the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, designed by Gustav Peichl, an Austrian architect close to Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The German Museum of Contemporary History, the work of Ingeborg and Hartmut Rudiger, was also built along the same thoroughfare, adding a blatant air of previously abjured permanence with its beige granite walls and vaulted roof of steel and glass. Had anyone foreseen East Germany's demise, these large-scale, multimillion dollar projects never would have been put on the drawing board. They were completed after the collapse of the Wall and opened amid concern that they were rapidly destined to become expensive white elephants when the government transferred its operations to Berlin.
The costly new Bundestag plenary chamber that replaced Schwippert's legislative hall was the victim of even worse tinting. After much hesitation, politicians agreed in the late 1980s to tear down the 1949 chamber to make way for a more commodious structure by the Stuttgart-based architect Gunter Behnisch, who sees himself as heir to the design legacy of Schwippert, Eiermann, and Ruf (see figure 8). Like them, Behnisch has pronounced ideas about what architecture can achieve and the way a democracy should embody itself in its official structures. His architectural outlook stems from his personal history Born in 1922, he joined the Hitler Youth as an adolescent and later became a u-boat commander before ending up as a prisoner of war in Great Britain. In the wake of Nazism's defeat, he dedicated himself to designing its antithesis. For him, monumental facades, stony symmetry, and long axes evoke jackbooted soldiers; and behind rows of columns lurk blood-spattered tyrants.
His practice, known as Behnisch & Partners, acquired international prominence for its contribution to the 1972 Olympic Games stadia in Munich. Although that athletic event was overshadowed by the Palestinian terrorist slaying of Israeli sportsmen, organizers had hoped it would be remembered for Behnisch's festive and playful tent-roof constructions, designed with the architect Frei Otto by stretching transparent textiles over a cable-net frame. The gossamer lightness of these constructions presented a demonstrative counterpoint to the previous Olympic Games held on German soil, the 1936 Berlin event presided over by Hitler at a classically inspired stadium of heavy stone. The totalitarian nation that put itself on view at the Berlin games was supplanted in Munich by a far more relaxed and neighborly Germany.
Behnisch believes that architecture sends distinct signals about the nature of the society in which it is designed. "When democratic conditions prevail at the time architecture comes into being, democratic architecture must arise" he said. And he, much like Schwippert, is unwilling to glorify politicians with state architecture, insisting on using it instead to help nurture the democratic process itself and combat forces he sees as threatening ]it--excessive wealth, political party control, and personal ambition. "We must regulate the powers that push their way into architecture. Inappropriate ambitions must be nipped in the bud, thwarted, and reduced. And the weak, who are perhaps more worthy, should be strengthened," he said.
In this respect, Behnisch tells a story about Frederick the Great. Annoyed at the grating rattle of a windmill sited near his palace of Sans Souci, the Prussian king commanded that the mill be torn down. Its owner took the matter to a court, which ruled that the clattering machinery could remain in operation despite royal displeasure. "We are like the windmiller," Behnisch proclaimed, clearly proud of the reaction his buildings provoke among leaders of democratic Germany. His low-rise modernist Parliament for Bonn constantly reminds politicians who work in it that not they, but the voters, are sovereign. Staircases are set off-angle to mute their grandeur and, lest politicians be tempted to undemocratic heights, the steps lead down rather than up to the modestly appointed chamber. Instead of high-minded lapidary inscriptions, playful poetry has been painted on the clear glass walls. Only the red, black, and gold national flag flying outside, alongside the banner of the European Union, and the door handles, imprinted with the image of the federal eagle, signal that this is an official building.
Like the old teachers' college--preserved as home to the smaller upper house of parliament known as the Bundesrat--Behnisch's new architecture for the Bundestag poses a stark contrast to the bullying overblown classicism deployed by Speer for the Third Reich. Instead of marble or granite, Behnisch installed raw concrete floors at the entry. Where the concrete floors are covered, there are natural sisal runners rather than plush red carpets. The unassuming effect confused some visitors who in 1990s Germany expected something more august. "Many of our guests say, `Oh, it's not finished yet.'" said Gabrielle Godeken, a tour guide at the Parliament, several months after the building's dedication.
The concrete floors are not the only jarring feature in some visitors' eyes. There are no soaring pillars to recall Speer, but instead the fiat roof sits upon steel gray 1-beams. The array of metal and glass prompted some to liken the entrance of the building to an airport departure hall or a train station. "What was intended as criticism is praise," said Peter Conradi, a parliamentarian who was a key supporter of Behnisch's design. "The building opens itself up to visitors, to school groups. The Parliament Building does not intimidate, rather it invites curiosity. The people are welcome in the house of their representatives." The industrial elements of the building were similarly lauded by Bundestag President Rita Sussmuth for reinforcing the German parliament's image as a "laboratory of democracy."
The metaphor of expansive glass walls for democratic transparency was repeated here, though the panels were bullet-proofed for security. A large spectator gallery and press tribune inside the plenary chamber eliminates the need for bleachers like those erected outside Schwippert's building. Of course, the reality is such that many of the Bundestag's key political decisions are made not in the clear-paneled chamber but in backroom negotiations and closed committee meetings. The glass walls do ensure the legislators dramatic views out to the Rhine, in effect giving the modern parliament a natural backdrop celebrated in ancient Teutonic lore, the poetry of Heinrich Heine, and the operas of Richard Wagner.
But the light-filled chamber hardly has the pathos traditionally beloved of German culture. It communicates an open and friendly character. There is a Japanese lightness to the place; a Behnisch-designed annex housing the offices of the Bundestag president and vice presidents contains sliding translucent shoji screens instead of curtains to grant some privacy in the riverbank offices. The legislature's circular seating arrangement, which Adenauer thwarted in Schwippert's design, is intended to signal the cooperative will within a democracy (see figure 9). Its form embodies, in Behnisch's view, an antiauthoritarian forum devoid of hierarchical arrangements in which all parliamentarians are seated at the same level. Here no one can deliver a dressing-down from on high.
The chamber's focal point is a massive aluminum eagle affixed to the wall behind the Bundestag president's seat. Selected after considerable Bundestag debate, this eagle looks less vigorous than that used on the emblems of the German federal army or presidency. The Bundestag bird tends toward the plump side and seems more like an imposing but amiable chicken than the aggressive high-flier of Germany's past. "Eagle-Lite" was how some parliamentarians referred to it when reviewing the ornithological alternatives.
Behnisch avoided strong colors and rich materials in favor of light blues and beige. Pale woods like maple, pine, ash, and oak were used for the balustrades, some flooring areas, and wall panels. The gradations in the shade of blue fabric covering the legislators' seats, Behnisch stated, aim to illustrate the array of opinions within a democracy. His fear of uniformity is also evident in the furnishings of lounge areas, which include a selection of armchairs and couches designed by celebrated modernists like Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, and Le Corbusier. The sheer diversity gives parts of the Bundestag the feeling of a well-stocked department store showroom.
Among the artworks in the building, there is not a figurative piece to be found, for fear of evoking the specter of heroic images favored by the Nazis. Foreign artists, including the American painter Sam Francis and sculptor Mark di Suvero, outnumber the Germans whose works are on view. Nicola de Maria's wildly colorful murals cover the walls and ceilhags of the representatives' restaurant and bar. The art selection, like the restrained aura of the building in general, can be seen as a visible transmutation of the nationalist declaration "Deutschland, Deutschland fiber Alles!" into "Germany, Germany--among other things" a preferred alternative put forth by the leftist poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzemberger.
In the visitors' area on a lower level of the building, a series of panels elucidate some of the thinking behind the Bundestag architecture and the forces that shaped Bonn as a capital. The permanent exhibition seeks to prompt visitors to ponder Behnisch's symbol-packed legislature. It also provides comparative illustrations of other structures like the Palace of the Republic in Berlin, built to house Communist East Germany's rubberstamp parliament, and fascist-era buildings like the House of German Art by Paul Ludwig Troost in Munich and the tribune designed by Speer for Nazi Party rallies in Nuremberg. "Columns do not stand for dictatorship, nor glass for democracy," the inscription on one panel reads. "Architecture in a democracy need not be faceless. Architecture in a democracy should be diverse, not pompous; self-confident, not bombastic; modest but not cheap.... To build in a democracy means to build for and with the citizens, not against them."
The statements have a dogmatic ring. That it was deemed necessary to explicitly articulate them inside a structure intended as their apotheosis indicates that Bonn's symbolic architecture is perhaps not as self-evident as Schwippert, Behnisch, and their kind might have hoped. All the same, many German politicians cling to these democratic symbols as if to articles of faith. Though not always consistently implemented in Bonn, they formed its unwritten architectural credo. The move back to Berlin put the credo to the test.