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Community / Public space

CityMetric Advent 9: The largest present ever wrapped

What are you getting for Christmas this year? How about one of these?

Image: Getty. 

This is the German parliament building, the Reichstag, all wrapped up like it’s a present: a present, as it were, to the entire German people. And they all thought they were just getting socks.

Okay, we’re cheating slightly on this one as it was not, in fact, a Christmas present at all; in fact, it happened in high summer. (So sue us.)


But the husband and wife team of conceptual artists, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, did spend a quarter of a century plotting to wrap the Reichstag up like a giant prezzie, coming up with more than half a dozen concept images down the years. They finally got to do it for real in 1995.

Wrapping an entire building, 130m across, was a big job. It required nearly 100,000 square metres of thick silver fabric (polypropylene, doncha know) and 9.7 miles of rope, and required a team of 90 professional climbers and 120 installation workers. All that, and it only stayed wrapped for 14 days.

So why do it? For one thing it was just the sort of thing that Christo and Jeanne-Claude liked to do. By the mid 1990s they’d already wrapped some Florida islands in pink plastic, and installed 31,000 umbrellas in California and Japan, just for the lols. In the immortal words of Lisa Simpson, they just like to “make the world a more magical place”.

But the Wrapped Reichstag also came loaded with specific and deliberate symbolism. The Reichstag, after all, had had a pretty chequered history. Set alight as the Nazis took power in 1933, and almost demolished during the invasion of Berlin in 1945, the building then found itself in West Berlin, just metres from the border with the Soviet sector. The West German parliament, not unnaturally, chose to meet instead hundreds of miles west in Bonn. For nearly half a century, as the Cold War raged, the Reichstag sat empty.

The Reichstag unwrapped. Image: Getty.

In 1991, though, the parliament of the newly reunified country agreed to return to the building. From 1992 until 1999, the Recihstag was renovated (sadly, MPs were not forced to claw their way through Christo’s wrapping to get to their offices). As a result, the wrapping and unveiling of the parliament building could act as a genuine symbol of the reunification of the two Germanies into a single democratic state.

See? And you thought we were just being pretentious.

The art work stood for two weeks; then the fabric was taken down and recycled. It remains, best we can tell, the largest present ever wrapped. Just imagine the size of the tree.
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