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Why the chairs in German parliament are 'Reichstag blue'

Christine Lehnen
December 8, 2021

Germany's new government is sworn into the Bundestag. What do a soothing color, Merkel's blazer and Annalena Baerbock's choice of trouser suit say about German politics?

Deutschland Plenarsaal des Bundestages wird umgebaut
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

As Germany's new chancellor, Olaf Scholz will sit in a very special chair in the Bundestag.

The model is called Figura, and it was designed in 1984 by the Italian designer and architect Mario Bellini and his colleague Dieter Thiel for the Swiss company Vitra.

Yet the most notable aspect of the chair is its color — bright blue with a hint of purple. It has even been patented as "Reichstag blue." All chairs in the Bundestag are this color.

Yet, the blue color scheme wasn't always in the cards. When the Bundestag was redesigned by renowned British architect Norman Foster between 1993 and 1999, he wanted the chairs to be gray.

A person puts signs on blue seats in the Reichstag.
The blue color with a touch of purple has been patented 'Reichstag Blue'Image: picture alliance/dpa

The architect, who prevailed in a competition against his colleagues Santiago Calatrava and Pi de Bruijn, chose light gray as the basic color of the new plenary chamber. The chairs were to also be gray, as per Foster's wish.

The horror of gray

However, politicians in the Bundestag resisted this. At the time, Peter Conradi of the Social Democrats quipped, according to German newspaper Tagesspiegel: "Gray men with gray hair in gray suits on gray armchairs in front of gray tables on a gray carpet with gray walls all around — who is not gripped by the horror?" 

Thus, Danish designer Per Arnoldi was commissioned by Foster to find a different shade. The result was the "Reichstag Blue," which Foster was so enamored with, that he promptly patented it.

Blue was also chosen because it was a neutral political color which was unaffiliated with any of the parties in the Bundestag at the time. 

That changed when the far-right AfD party came into the German Bundestag in 2017. However, its shade of blue is much lighter than the so-called "Reichstag blue."

"Reichstag blue is a well-chosen color. It can create a calm atmosphere in the Bundestag," color expert Silvia Prehn told DW. "It is a calm color that conveys clarity and objectivity. Blue has a physically calming effect — one's pulse and breath slow down as it relaxes and soothes."

Blue is also the favorite color of Germans, according to Prehn: "38% of surveyed Germans favor it. It's no wonder because blue is also a protective color: If you wear it, you make yourself invulnerable. Blue is very serious, and it also offers clarity and harmony," she says.

Former Chancellor  Angela Merkel repeatedly chose to wear blue — especially when traveling abroad, as writer Stephan Rabimov noted in Forbes magazine: "Many remember the iconic G7 protocol photograph from the Bavarian Alps: a lineup of dark suits punctuated halfway with a single bright sky-blue jacket," he wrote in a 2020 article. He referred to the color as "Merkel Blue."

G7 Summit politicians waving, Angela Merkel in her trademark pose, wearing a blue blazer.
A colorful touch among black suits: Merkel at the G7 summit in 2015Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

Continuing the 'Merkel Blue' tradition?

"It is not surprising that Angela Merkel wanted to use the color blue on trips abroad," commented Silvia Prehn. "It's a logical, clear color that protects and inspires confidence." 

With all these associations, the color could also be described as a "German blue," which stands for modern Germany and how the country wants to be perceived in the world, according to Prehn.
Thanks to her blazers, it can be said that Angela Merkel became something of a fashion icon for her particular style: "With a healthy 1.5 million following on Instagram, she is a bona fide global style influencer in her own right," wrote Rabimov.

Will Olaf Scholz continue the tradition as the new Chancellor? "Olaf Scholz mainly wears dark blue. The darker the blue, the more solemn, serious and sincere it looks," says Prehn. "It arouses feelings of trust, constancy and truth."

The new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, would be more likely to be the heir to the "German Blue": "Just yesterday she wore exactly the same color as the chairs in the Reichstag, that is, aquamarine with a bit of purple," says the color expert. "She wants to be taken seriously."

Christian Lindner, Olaf Scholz, Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck stand in front of press.
Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock matched the chairs in the BundestagImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

Whether top German politicians in the new government take up the blue again or not, the chairs in the Bundestag will continue to be "Reichstag Blue." 

"The blue stands for the thinkers, analysts, the people with the data, numbers and facts," says Prehn. "Violet, on the other hand, represents the visionary and the foresighted." 

The light gray in the plenary hall is the perfect companion to this, explains the color expert. "It is discreet, adaptable, stands for and encourages a willingness to compromise."

Perhaps this color scheme is also a reason why communication is comparatively polite in the Bundestag, at least when viewed from abroad. "Especially in the plenary hall, where so many heated debates take place, the blue can soothe people so that quieter, less emotional, angry discussions can take place," says Prehn. "It's a wonderful color scheme. It would be bad if everything were red."

This article was translated from German.