Understanding German(y)

Recently in an on-line forum an image of a building complex was identified as “the Reichstag” in Berlin.

I couldn’t let that stand.

A Response:

Ups, i gotta be a bit pedantic, ’cause it is an important differentiation. I apologise to you in advance, folks for being a stickler, but our history is … well … complex.

Summary:

It is important to keep two things separate: Reichstag building and Bundestag (as it also behoves one to choose political vocabulary carefully in German in general). If one does not, one is at high risk of being understood to be uncritical about revisionist / reactionary / Rightist / Fascist / Royalist / expansionist / colonialist and similar ideology(-ies).

This case is a good example, so here goes …

paul-loebe-haus und marie-elisabeth-lüders-haus bei nacht berlin regierungsviertelWhat was posted is not the “Reichstag” or even the Reichstag Building. The photo shows the offices of the parliamentarians and the library of parliament, called Paul-Löbe-Haus and Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus respectively. (image right)

The word “Reichstag” translates as “Imperial Diet/Parliament” and was (in recent history) the name of the representational house of government from 1871-1918, from 1918-1933, and form 1933 until its last meeting as a single party parliament under the NSDAP on 26. April 1942.

People often say “Reichstag” in reference to the building erected in 1884 along plans by Paul Wallot, officially call “Reichstagsgebäude” (Eng.: Imperial Diet Building). (image below)

The contemporary body of government that has held session there since 1999 is the “Bundestag” (Eng.: Federal Diet), the elected representative wing of our bicameral parliament. The other house of parliament is the Bundesrat (Eng.: Federal Council) made up of representatives of the federal states.

Why is it important to discern the Reichstags Building from contemporary government buildings and organs?

That has to do with the word “Reich”. In and of itself the word is unremarkable, simply meaning empire or realm, any empire or realm at all. The word is historically compromised however, as are many equally unspectacular German words. This is often, as in this case, due to their instrumentalisation in the rhetoric of the NSDAP and other Fascist/Rightist parties and organisations past and present, German speaking or not – see Richard Spencer!

When the decision was felled to locate the plenary room of the Bundestag in the Reichstag Building, 20 Jun 1991, i was very ambivalent about the move, as were many who are critically sensitive about the history of statehood and Nationalism in Central Europe particularly in regions where German is/was spoken. The Reichstag building does not stand clearly for democratic traditions no matter by what definition, and plays a central role in several not uncontroversial events in and aspect of the history of this region not only between 1933 and 1945.

It is important to keep the two things separate: Reichstag building and Bundestag (as it also behoves one to choose political vocabulary carefully in German in general). If one does not, one is at high risk of being understood to be uncritical about revisionist / reactionary / Rightist / Fascist / Royalist / expansionist / colonialist and similar ideology(-ies).

Avoiding being (mis-)understood in this manner is of a certain relevance to speakers of German, as you may well imagine.

This in fact is the Reichstag Building:
Description Deutsch: Reichstagsgebäude von Westen, kurz vor Sonnenuntergang. Date 4 November 2007 Source (JMatern_071104_8454-8458_WC.jpg) Author Jürgen Matern License CC BY-SA 3.0 unported

Image: Reichstag building Berlin view from west before sunset.jpg. Date: 4 Nov 2007. Author: Jürgen Mattern.

Image (above): paul-loebe-haus und marie-elisabeth-lüders-haus bei nacht. regierungsviertel berlin. Date: 6. April 2011. Author: Goofy50. Lizenz: CC BY-SA 3.0 portiert. URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paul-loebe-haus.jpg?uselang=de. Last viewed: 17 Feb 2017.

Image (below): Reichstag building Berlin view from west before sunset.jpg. Date: 4 Nov 2007. Author: Jürgen Mattern. License: CC BY-SA 3.0 unported. URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Reichstag_building_Berlin_view_from_west_before_sunset.jpg. Last viewed: 22 Feb 2017.

My own work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To material referenced in this blog, or to which links have been set, other licensing conditions may apply. Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag

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