It was bound to happen — after the two interns and I had shuffled desks for weeks, setting up shop in the office of whoever happened to be on vacation at the time, we were over capacity today, and two of us were without a place to camp. So after our editorial meeting, I headed over to the Reichstag to catch some action on the floor of the Bundestag, which is back in session this week after a long summer vacation of its own.
I cruised past the very long line in front of the building’s main entrance and eventually found a side entrance where people with high-end cameras were coming out — the press entrance. Putting on my press badge and my best “sure, I belong here” look, I marched in. As in the Bundespressekonferenz, the Germans don’t seem particularly concerned about security when it comes to members of the press. The security guard placed my bag on the scanner belt and made a gesture that I assumed meant I should walked through the metal detector. So I did, and my phone and keys and belt and coins and whatever else set it off. “Ah,” said the security guard. “You should have walked around it.” He wished me a pleasant time, and I continued ahead.
I found myself in a modern but empty hallway without any signs. So, keeping that look of confidence on my face, I turned right. There wasn’t much there. I turned around and went left. I found some stairs and figured I’d go up. More empty, modern, unmarked halls. Eventually I found an area with some people in it. There were also sign-in sheets with the names of all the members of the Bundestag — about half of them had signed next to their names that day.
My look of confidence was failing. A security guard asked if she could help me. I sheepishly asked her where the hearing was. She directed me there.
The Bundestag floor is spacious and modern, emphasizing comfort and convenience over the sense of history that our chambers of Congress exude:
Oh, and there are waiters in tails serving drinks to the members of parliament.
The tone of the floor debate falls somewhere between the dry but semi-civil American style and the rowdy, combative British one. It’s mostly pretty orderly, but there are occasional shouts and retorts and groans from the sections where members of different ideologies from the speaker are seated. Joe Wilson would fit right in (except, you know, that the members of the Bundestag are quite well-informed and cite data on the fly as they engage in back-and-forths).
The speakers themselves deliver sometimes thundering orations, full of applause lines. (I was surprised to find that most of the cheers came only from the speaker’s own party — the Greens would applaud a Green speaker, while the Social Democrats, with whom the Greens often ally, would sit mostly silent.) The most rousing speech came from Klaus Ernst of the far-left party Die Linke. In a strong Bavarian accent, he opened, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” and then, with a chuckle, added something along the lines of “and also my colleagues on the right.” Loud jeers came from the right side of the aisle.
The debate itself concerned employment, though I couldn’t really follow all the details. I occasionally glanced skyward, where I could see tourists strolling through the building’s great glass dome. They’d all waited in line for hours to get up there; could I find my way there on the strength of my press pass?
Only one way to find out. I left the main hall and started walking up the first stairs I saw — again, like most of the building, completely empty except for me. When I got to the top, I went through a door, across the atrium where the political parties had their Bundestag offices, past some security guards — again, game face — and eventually found a sign indicating the way to the roof. After climbing some more stairs and giving a knowing nod to some more guards, I found myself on the roof deck. I couldn’t help but crack a grin.
The views from the deck and from inside the dome itself, needless to say, weren’t too shabby:
On the way out, for Schadenfreude’s sake, I sized up the line of people waiting to get in. The “30 minutes from this point” sign was only about a quarter of the way back — a two-hour wait, probably. You can catch a small fraction of these patient people — and a decent view of the building itself — here: