The story behind Christo's 'Wrapped Reichstag'

The triumph

"We won!" cried Christo on February 25, 1994. After struggling for 23 years to get his project "Wrapped Reichstag" approved, the Bundestag (German Parliament) finally allowed him to go ahead. The wrapping began on June 17, 1995, and was completed on June 24. Twenty years later, the spectacular process is now on display at an exhibition in Berlin.

Let the wrapping begin

The fabric arrived, and Christo donned his work gloves. He had been trying to convince the German parliament to do this art installation since 1971. Christo was particularly inspired by the building's location and its symbolism. That same historical symbolism caused heated debates in the parliament.

Symbol of freedom

In 1978, Christo presented a model of a veiled Reichstag at the Zurich Museum für Gestaltung (Museum of Design). Despite the troubled history of the structure built in the late 19th century under Kaiser Wilhelm II, Christo saw it as a symbol of freedom: the Republic was proclaimed there in 1918. Freedom had been a recurring theme in Christo's art since his escape from communist Bulgaria in 1951.

The "Wrapped Reichstag" collection

The exhibits on display when the Reichstag was wrapped in 1995 will be returning to Berlin: 320 drawings, models, collages and photos, as well as pieces of fabric, ropes and hooks used at the time. The Bulgarian artist will personally help set up the new exhibition.

Temporary veil

Christo's works can only be seen for short periods of time. His "Environmental Art" takes aim at the concept of private property. Open-air art belongs to no-one but is free to be enjoyed by all. To Christo, permanence equates to possession. Like many of his other works, the Reichstag stayed wrapped only for 14 days.

A happening

The last of the 70 tailor-made silvery fabric panels was installed on the Reichstag on June 23, 1995. Over 100,000 square meters (1,076,390 sq. ft.) of fabric, tied by several kilometers of blue rope, created a fascinating sight. People danced and celebrated around it. Within 14 days, five million visitors saw the "Wrapped Reichstag": a world record attendance for a two-week cultural happening.

Packing nothing is also an option

Christo began with his spectacular wrappings in the 1960s. His 5,600 square meter (60,277 sq ft) package presented at the "documenta 4" in Kassel in 1968 brought international recognition. He had already wrapped chairs, magazines or oil drums, but this time he managed to pack air.

Valley Curtain

Projects by Christo and Jeanne-Claude became more elaborate and colorful in the 1970s. To preserve their artistic freedom, the couple financed them by selling drawings, photographs and models of their works. In this spectacular creation from 1972, a 400-meter-long (1,312 feet) cloth was stretched across Rifle Gap, a valley in Colorado.

A different look at things

Christo and Jeanne-Claude have never concealed objects to the point that they could no longer be recognized. Their aesthetic approach allows the silhouette to stimulate the imagination. In 1985, they wrapped the Pont Neuf in Paris. Depending on the weather, the fabric would glitter differently - allowing the bridge to literally appear in a different light.

Teamwork art

Christo is accompanied by a large "family" of professional climbers and engineers. In 1990, his work "The Umbrellas" set up 3,000 umbrellas in Japan and California. The ambitious projects can also be perilous: one worker tragically died during that installation's removal.

Long wait for 'The Gates'

Christo not only wraps objects, but also landscapes and parks, as was the case here in 2005 with "The Gates" in New York's Central Park. The project was initially developed in 1979, but it took even longer than with the Reichstag to get it approved.

Work in progress

Christo is used to waiting. The 80-year-old is currently working on three projects simultaneously - designed in part with Jeanne-Claude, who passed away in 2009. "The Mastaba," to be set in Abu Dhabi, is to be a gigantic pyramid of 410,000 barrels oil. It could turn out to be his first major permanent work, which would be a unique legacy.

An exhibition in Berlin shows the long process which led the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude to wrap the Reichstag in Berlin 20 years ago. They fought to get the legendary project approved over a period of 23 years.