Tag Archives: President Hindenburg

February 27th – The Reichstag is set on fire

Firemen race to put out the fire at the Reichstag, February 27th, 1933.

Firemen race to put out the fire at the Reichstag, February 27th, 1933.

On this day in 1933, the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament in Berlin, was set on fire. At the time, Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch communist in Berlin at the time, as well as three other Bulgarian communists were arrested, tried and executed for starting the fire. Historians today however question whether van der Lubbe and his associates set fire to the Reichstag, or whether the fire was orchestrated and intentionally started by the Nazis. What is agreed upon though is that Adolf Hitler used the fire in the Reichstag as “evidence” of the Communist plot to overthrow the state, leading the German President Hindenburg to agree to Nazi requests to suspend civil liberties and give Hitler extraordinary “emergency powers”. The fire in the Reichstag solidified Nazi rule over Germany and was important in Hitler’s creation of the authoritarian state.

Hitler had been sworn in as Germany’s chancellor and as head of a coalition government only a month earlier. Hitler had envisioned passing the “Enabling Act” through the Reichstag, which would have given the Chancellor (himself) the power to pass laws by decree without the Reichstag in extraneous emergencies. The Enabling Act required 2/3s majority support in the Reichstag, and in January, the Nazis controlled only 1/3 of the seats in the Reichstag.

On February 27th, the Reichstag caught fire. Despite the work of the firemen at the scene, most of the Reichstag was gutted by the blaze. After it was reported that Communists had been arrested for the fire, Hitler asked for and received the “Reichstag Fire Decree” from President Hindenburg. The decree suspended civil liberties in Germany, allowing the Nazis to ban publications that they deemed unfriendly to their cause. Hitler also espoused that the fire in the Reichstag was evidence of a Communist plot to take over Germany, leading to the arrest of thousands of Communists in the days after the fire (including leaders of the Communist Party of Germany, the KPD). These arrests prevented Communists from taking their seats in the Reichstag. As well, several delegates of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) were intimidated from taking their seats in the Reichstag, under-representing their vote in the final tally for the Enabling Act. Consequently on March 23rd, the Enabling Act easily passed through Reichstag, making Hitler effectively the dictator of Germany, der Führer (the leader).

For the rest of the Third Reich’s existence, the Reichstag would not be in use. The building was severely damaged due to Allied bombing, and in postwar Germany, the Reichstag remained in disuse (note that Reichstag was physically in West Berlin, however only metres away from communist East Berlin). The West German parliament was moved to Bonn during the Cold War, leaving the Reichstag in a state of functional limbo. In 1999, 9 years after German reunification, German parliament met in the Reichstag for the first time in 66 years following renovations and restoration. The Reichstag is the second most visited attraction in Germany (after the Cologne Cathedral), and features a huge glass dome that replaced the original cupola (dome) of the Reichstag destroyed in the war. The glass dome allows for a 360° view of the Berlin cityscape. The glass dome also sits directly on top of the debating chamber of the Reichstag, symbolic of government transparency and the idea that the people are above the government, as was not the case during Nazi Germany. As someone who just visited Berlin in the past summer, I can testify that the Reichstag is definitely one of the must-see landmarks of that great city! Registration is required beforehand, but the good thing is that it is free and conveniently located close to other Berlin attractions such as the Brandenburg Gate, Pariser Platz, and the Holocaust Memorial (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe).

Here is a link to the City of Berlin’s tourist page on visiting the Reichstag and it’s history: http://www.visitberlin.de/en/spot/reichstag

And here is the link for registering to visit the dome of the Reichstag: http://www.bundestag.de/htdocs_e/visits/kupp.html

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