Christo's 'Wrapped Reichstag': Revisiting the iconic installation 25 years later
It took Christo and Jeanne-Claude nearly a quarter of a century to realize their dream of wrapping the long-ruined former German parliament. The project transformed the landmark back into a symbol of freedom.
A global icon
Christo and Jeanne-Claude completed their wrapping of the Reichstag on June 24, 1995. In the two weeks after, 5 million visitors flooded the site in Berlin, setting a world record for visits to a cultural event. The wrapped Reichstag became a festive scene as people danced and celebrated the artistic wonder. Fabric pieces were also distributed to visitors from around the world as souvenirs.
A long gestation
Christo began presenting his first concepts for a "Wrapped Reichstag" back in 1971. An accompanying exhibition documented the installation's long gestation with original drawings, models, photographs, pieces of rope, fabric and much else. In 2015, it was permanently reopened to the public as the Wrapped Reichstag Documentation Exhibition.
Getting the green light
Christo and Jeanne-Claude (above) founded their own company to oversee the Reichstag project, and photographer Wolfgang Volz helped manage the project, hiring 1,800 employees for the installation. The concept had a broad base of public support, which helped convince the Bundestag to give the project the green light after three rejections.
The semi-trailers roll in
On June 17, 1995, the first truck transporting the silvery tarpaulins arrived at the Reichstag. Onlookers soon gathered at the site as more than 100,000 square meters of the now iconic wrapping and several kilometers of blue rope were dropped off. The building had been out of use as a parliament since the early 1930s and would not become part of the modern German Parliament until 1999.
You're good to go
Now the assembly of the epic installation could begin, with Christo donning his work gloves and getting to work. It had taken decades for him and his wife to convince the German Parliament to approve their plans, but he remained enthusiastic about the project due to the building's deep historical symbolism. But such symbolism was also the source of the heated debate in the Bundestag.
Symbol of freedom
The theme of freedom had marked Christo's art since his escape from communist Bulgaria in 1951. Despite its eventful history, the Reichstag building was also a symbol of freedom. It was the site where a republic, and hence German democracy, was proclaimed in 1918, and where the official reunification ceremony took place in 1990 after the end of the communist German Democratic Republic.
But the building, built in 1894 by the last German Emperor, Wilhelm II, was also symbolic of the Nazi regime's rise to power. On the night of February 27, 1933, the Reichstag was set on fire. A Dutch communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, was soon arrested and executed for the crime. Many have suspected that the Nazis were behind the fire. Either way, the event became a pretext for authoritarian rule.
In the wake of reunification
In 1971 the newly reconstructed building bordering the Berlin Wall housed the exhibition "Questions about German History," which asked how parliamentary democracy was destroyed in Germany. Nearly 20 years later, in 1989, the Wall fell. The historical moment paved the way for Christo and Jeanne-Claude's grand art project to be realized.
After the wrapping, the building was re-renovated and was crowned by the Norman Foster-designed glass dome, a symbol of transparency that has since become an international tourist attraction. "Republic Square" ("Platz der Republik") fronting the building is again a site for protest and debate, while the Wrapped Reichstag Documentation Exhibition can still be accessed with a special permit.