Back in March IES took our group to visit the Reichstag building, which is home to the German parliament. While being lead through the different chambers in the building by our tour guide, I learned that anyone who wants may observe a plenary sitting with prior registration.
This idea excited me so much that as soon as I got home I went online and tried to book a visit to a sitting. I was given the option of listing my top three choices for dates out of the remaining plenary sittings that hadn’t been booked at full capacity by that point. The only available dates were all for June! I guess this speaks volumes about the importance of government transparency in Germany.
So finally last Thursday I got a chance to go and take advantage of this exciting opportunity. Arriving 45 minutes before my appointment time, I smoothly went through security and was ushered to wait in the hall outside the main glass chamber. Standing there, I could observe the politicians and the visitors already sitting in the tribunes through the glass wall. Shortly before 8pm, the atmosphere suddenly changed as the visitors left the tribunes and the 8pm crowd was allowed to go in and take seats.
There were two big screens that presented the information about the upcoming speakers. The way the plenary sitting was organized was by topics: Topic #1, topic #2…etc. And for every topic they would allocate between 30-50 minutes, with every speaker having from two to four minutes to express his/her opinion. Because every speaker was affiliated with a different party, they received enthusiastic applause from different parts of the room depending on where their fellow party members were sitting. It was also particularly fun to watch how some parliament members publicly (and loudly) expressed their disagreement with what the speaker was saying.
When I went in shortly before 8pm, I caught the end of the debate about tax evasion by businesses. I wish I could say I understood more than I did, but alas…But then the next topic came and all of a sudden the parliamentarians were arguing about whether Germany should send troops to support the UN mission in Mali. Now THAT was fascinating! When it finally came to the vote all of a sudden it seemed that hundreds of parliamentarians appeared in the plenary chamber, cast their votes using two special ears, and disappeared into the winding hallways again. Unfortunately then it was time for me to leave, although the next morning I did read in the newspaper that they did after all decide to send some troops to Mali.
What an awesome experience! And here are some pictures of the famous Reichstag dome – the true symbol of democratic transparency.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Marta is a Sociology and German double major at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, but has a hard time staying within the boundaries of these two disciplines just the way she cannot stay in any one place for a long time. The thirst for knowledge and adventures is her biggest drive; over the course of her college career she has taken classes ranging from film studies to psychology, and she just spent a semester studying Arabic in Jordan. Originally from Lithuania, Marta has been fortunate enough to call many places her home. When she is not devouring books, she coordinates and leads campus tours, serves as a proctor in a first-year student dorm, works at the Admissions office as well as helping out at the Registrar’s office at Bowdoin. In her free time, she can be found either taking photographs or swing dancing. She can’t wait to check out the Berlin lindy hop scene!</span></p>