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Reichstag Observation Deck, Berlin, Germany

A view of the observations deck, inside the dome of the Reichstag (parliament building) in Berlin, Germany.

I first visited the Reichstag in 1984, when Germany was still a divided country and the capital of West Germany was hundreds of miles away, in Bonn. The Reichstag at that time was being used for a display titled 'Questions in German History'. The Berlin Wall was just a few yards east of the building. Our group had lunch in a back room with a view of the Wall, while East German border guards with binoculars watched us from the other side.

The interior of the main chamber was set up with temporary chairs, the number of chairs corresponding to the number of representatives that a reunited Germany would have. By then, Germany had been divided for almost 40 years, and very few people believed the chamber would ever be used. Five years later, the Wall came crashing down.

Through the glass panels visitors can get a view of the main chamber of the German government, where representatives meet to debate and vote on legislation. The design represents transparency in government – an important idea for any country, but especially for one with a very problematic past. Around the observation deck, visual display panels trace the history of the building, and of government in Germany.

The central column of mirrors reflects light into the chamber, and also acts as an air duct, pulling hot air out of the chamber through convection – and with all those government representatives in the chamber, there's a lot of hot air.

For many, the Berlin Wall is still there

It's been more than 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down. Although almost all vestiges of the Wall have disappeared, taken in small chunks by souvenir hunters, the concrete barrier remains an ominous presence for many Berliners. Hundreds of those who grew up with the Wall suffer from a psychological disorder known as "Wall Sickness." Surprisingly, it is not the West Berliners -- the ones who were surrounded by the Wall -- that suffer from the disorder, but the East Berliners, who wanted to get through, over or under the Wall to freedom.

The Day the Wall Came Tumbling Down

Potsdamer Platz 1984

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall fell. Here are a few stories marking the event.

News from Europe

On the road: Berlin

Berliners are famous for their biting, sarcastic sense of humor, and a penchant for naming objects in their home town. Here are a few of them:

Officially known as the Weltkugelbrunnen (World Ball Fountain), Berliner's refer to it as the Wasserklops (water meatball).

The Haus der Kulturen, which houses changing exhibits honoring multiculturalism and world cultures, is usually known as the Pregnant Oyster, but during the mid to late 1970's it was called Jimmy Carter's Smile.

The German Chancellory Building (sort of the German White House), whose design was approved under the leadership of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, is known as Kohl's Wash Machine. At more than 3/4 of a million square feet, it's also been dubbed the Kohlosseum.

During the early 1990's, following reunification with East Germany, Berlin became the largest construction site in the world. Construction cranes were such a common feature of the Berlin skyline that Berliner's named the crane the National Bird.

This communist-era statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels stands not far from the Berlin Cathedral. Marx is Commie Claus. Hop up in his lap and tell him what you would in your stocking five years from now.

While the new US Embassy was under construction, the Starbuck's across the square from the site was The Temporary Embassy of the United States of America.

And last, but not least the TV Tower on Alexanderplatz, visible from just about anywhere in central Berlin, is known as The Big Asparagus.

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