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Why the chairs in German parliament are ‘Reichstag blue’

🔴What do a soothing colour, Merkel's blazer and Annalena Baerbock's choice of trouser suit say about German politics?

By: Deutsche Welle |
December 10, 2021 12:09:02 pm
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz sits alone on the government bench after being sworn in as new German Chancellor in the German Parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Dec 8, 2021. (AP)

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 colour — bright blue with a hint of purple. It has even been patented as “Reichstag blue.” All chairs in the Bundestag are this colour.

Yet, the blue colour 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.

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

The horror of grey

However, politicians in the Bundestag resisted this. At the time, Peter Conradi of the Social Democrats quipped, according to German newspaper Tagesspiegel: “Grey men with grey hair in grey suits on grey armchairs in front of grey tables on a grey carpet with grey 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 enamoured with, that he promptly patented it.

Blue was also chosen because it was a neutral political colour 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 colour. It can create a calm atmosphere in the Bundestag,” colour expert Silvia Prehn told DW. “It is a calm colour 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 favourite colour of Germans, according to Prehn: “38% of surveyed Germans favour it. It’s no wonder because blue is also a protective colour: If you wear it, you make yourself invulnerable. Blue is very serious, and it also offers clarity and harmony,” she says.

Angela Merkel, anchor of European stability, stays focused at her final G-7 German Chancellor Angela Merkel along with other world leaders at the G7 summit in Krun, Germany, June 7, 2015. (The New York Times/File)

Former Chancellor Angela Merkel repeatedly chose to wear blue — especially when travelling 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 colour as “Merkel Blue.”

Continuing the ‘Merkel Blue’ tradition?

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

With all these associations, the colour 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 colour as the chairs in the Reichstag, that is, aquamarine with a bit of purple,” says the colour expert. “She wants to be taken seriously.”

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 colour expert. “It is discreet, adaptable, stands for and encourages a willingness to compromise.”

Perhaps this colour 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 colour scheme. It would be bad if everything were red.”

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