This is, or rather was the Imperial Parliament of Germany. Here in Berlin the legislature of the German Second Empire and Weimar Republic was planned and expedited. It is extremely old; as a legislative (or law-making) chamber its origins stretch back to the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire (q.v.).
The Reichstag was encouraged and re-instated by Otto von Bismarck (q.v.), forming the representative assembly of those states constituent to the North German Confederation; from 1871 it was the centre of government for the Second Empire. It should be noted that its rôle in the Empire was the passing of legislation: it was not permitted to interfere in federal government, and had limited control over public expenditure. Under the Weimar Republic however, the Reichstag enjoyed greater powers, as the actual government was made responsible to it.
Great fame, perhaps infamy, came its way on the night of 27 February, 1933. The whole building excepting a few outer pillars was destroyed by a mysterious fire. The conflagration spread so quickly and efficiently that arson was immediately suspected. In a trice the police arrested, tried and beheaded a young Dutchman of limited intelligence, and Hitler’s Government announced that the burning of the Reichstag formed part of a plot inspired by the Jews and executed by the Communists to foment a series of rebellions across Germany.
Hitler had already made his philosophies known about Jewry, but now his henchmen arrested a Bulgarian member of the Communist Party called Dimitrov, with the intention of putting all the blame for the disastrous fire on him and the pathetic Marinus van der Lubbe. The stratagem did not work because Dimitrov defended himself brilliantly at his trial, reversing the whole case so that it became obvious that the fire was started by the Nazis to provide an excuse for taking emergency measures against left-wing parties. This notion seems to have received general endorsement by historians to this day. Certainly it has always been the theory of anti-Nazi exiles.
Recent evidence suggests that van der Lubbe did indeed set fire to the Reichstag, for his own crazed motives; it is clear however that the Nazis delayed fire services from reaching the building, for reasons of their own. Whatever the truth is behind the Reichstag Fire, it enabled Adolf Hitler to rush through decrees conferring totalitarian powers on the National Socialist Government. On 28 February a decree suspending all civil liberties and installing a state of emergency was proclaimed, which lasted until 1945 and the end of Hitler’s war. Just to make sure, the Reichtag voted itself out of existence as a centre of government in March, 1933.
The building itself was magnificently rebuilt during the 1960s.
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