In the corridors of power
D.C., as US Americans like to call their capital, is a city everyone somehow feels they know. After all, it provides the backdrop for the US correspondents who report on the daily evening TV news and for the heroes of the political and spy thrillers that follow them. But what is it really like in the corridors of power? A good way to find out is to take a look behind the scenes at the White House - and anyone can
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A glimpse behind the scenes in the home of the powerful
The White House:
A sight you’ve seen a thousand times: World famous as the residence and official seat of the US President, the White House was first occupied in 1800 by John Adams. A far less well-known fact, on the other hand, is that the current home of the Obama family also opens its doors to the public. To make sure of a place on a tour, it’s a good idea to book as early as possible (but not more than six months before your planned date). US citizens are required to apply through their congressman, people of other nationalities through their respective embassy in Washington. Incidentally, the same procedure also applies to a visit to the Pentagon.
The White House: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Tel. +1-202/456 70 41 (Visitors Office). Free tours by prior reservation, Tuesday to Saturday mornings. White House Visitor Center (no prior reservation required): 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, +1-202/208 16 31. Opening times, daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and January 1) 7:30am – 4pm. Admission: free. www.whitehouse.gov/about/tours-and-events
Transcending borders: How about a short trip to Egypt, China or Turkey? Contributing to the Embassy Series, the diplomatic missions of these and other countries hold mostly classical concerts, although there is a growing trend toward performances by folk musicians from the respective countries. In addition to an enjoyable musical event, visitors also have the opportunity to take a look behind the prestigious facades of the embassy buildings.
Embassy Series: Tel. +1-202/625 23 61. Often several concerts a month, dates and admission prices available on the website: www.embassyseries.com.
International Spy Museum:
Top secret: A host of unwelcome guests also prowls the corridors of power. In fact, according to the International Spy Museum, “more than 10,000 spies” allegedly live in Washington. This extraordinary museum provides information about some of history’s most spectacular cases of espionage, tells of undercover agents from the days of the Cold War and the 21st century, and showcases some of the tricks and technologies spies use. A visit is not just highly informative, but also very entertaining. Instead of offering guided tours, the museum sends visitors on secret missions, and also has some very special adventures lined up for children and teenagers.
International Spy Museum: 800 F Street, NW, +1-202/393 77 98. Opening times: daily (see website). Admission: US$ 18 (ages 12-64), reductions for children and senior citizens. www.spymuseum.org
Where fact and fiction intersect
Symbol of power: On its completion in 1884, the 169.3-meter-high obelisk ousted Cologne Cathedral as the tallest structure in the world, but in turn lost the title to the Eiffel Tower in Paris five years later. To this day, however, no building rises higher into the sky over Washington, making the visitor level right below its tip a fantastic place to grab some impressive views over the entire city. The aluminum-tipped stone needle also plays a special role in several works of pop culture - for examples as a favored target in the sci-fi movie Mars Attacks!.
Washington Monument: National Mall. Opening times: temporarily closed due to maintenance. www.nps.gov/wamo
House of the Temple:
Mysterious string pullers: Freemasonry was a subject of hot debate in Washington long before Dan Brown (Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code) released his new bestselling novel The Lost Symbol. The fact is that some of the United States’ founding fathers (none other than George Washington among them, for example) were members of the secret society - and that Brown’s story is pure fiction. Washington’s Masonic temple, on the other hand, really does exist and is officially open to visitors.
House of the Temple: 1733, 16th Street, NW, Tel. +1-202/232 35 79. Opening times: Mon-Thu 9am-4pm (March-August), Mon-Thu 10am-4pm (September-February). Admission: US$ 7.33, students and senior citizens US$ 3.33. www.scottishrite.org
Library of Congress:
Where knowledge is power: Nowhere will you find as many books and other items of printed matter (more than 32 million!) stored in one place or have the opportunity to turn the pages of so many extremely rare, historically significant volumes as in Washington’s Library of Congress. Exhibitions, concerts and readings as well as other cultural events are regularly held here, too. Guided tours of the Thomas Jefferson Building are also available, offering visitors a chance to explore this imposing building with its Great Hall, Main Reading Room and impressive murals.
Library of Congress: 1st Street, SE, Tel. +1-202/707 80 00. Opening times: Thomas Jefferson Building Mon-Sat 8:30am-4:30pm (but vary for other buildings, Reading Room and cultural events). Admission: free. www.loc.gov
Pictures: Corbis (4), Look-Foto, getty-images