Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany
Located at the end of Unter den Linden, a grand boulevard that cuts through the center of Berlin, the majestic Brandenburg Gate is the most famous and imposing landmark of Berlin. Built in the eighteenth century as a symbol of peace, it was once the main entrance to the city and the only gate of the former city wall that still exists today.
The Brandenburg Gate was commissioned by Emperor William II as the replacement of an older gate that marked the start of the road from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg an del Havel, the capital of Margraviate of Brandenburg, until replaced by Berlin in 1417. It is to be noted in this context that, Margraviate of Brandenburg was a major centre of the Holy Roman Empire from 1157 to 1806 and played an important role in the history of Central Europe.
The Brandenburg Gate, situated in the western part of the City Centre of Berlin, was designed by Architect Carl Gotthard Langhans, whose vision was inspired by the Propylaea, the gateway to the Acropolis in Athens. The construction of the gate started in 1778 and was officially opened to the public in 1791. Since it was meant to symbolise a period of peace after years of war during the reign of Frederick the Great, the huge gate was named ‘Friedenstor’, Peace Gate. The magnificent gate, measuring 65.5 meters wide and 28 meters tall (213 x 92ft), consists of twelve Doric columns, six to each side, forming five passageways. Initially, the widest central gateway was restricted for the royals only, while the adjacent passages were for the use of the aristocracy. Ordinary citizens were allowed to use only the outer two. It was decorated with bas-relief scenes depicting stories from Greek mythology, which took another four years to complete. The gate was crowned with a bronze statue known as the ‘Quadriga’ (chariot) which depicted a statue of the winged goddess of victory driving a chariot pulled by four horses. The statue, which can be spotted from a long distance, was created by Johann Gottfried Schadow and was added to the gate in 1793.
The crowning statue of the Quadriga remained in place for just over a decade. However, in 1806, when Berlin was occupied by the French troops, Napoleon ordered to dismantle the statue and ship it to Paris. Subsequently, after Napoleon's comprehensive defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, the Quadriga was triumphantly taken back to Berlin, and once again installed atop the Brandenburg Gate. This time, the statue was ceremoniously named ‘Victoria’, after the Roman goddess of victory and as a symbol of Prussia’s military victory over France, an iron cross with an eagle was added to the laurel wreath.
The dignified gate was badly damaged during World War II and after the division of Berlin, it ended up in the Russian sector. The East Berlin authority repaired it in 1956-1958, while West Berlin funded the reconstruction of the destroyed Quadriga, which was created from the original mold. The iron cross and the eagle, symbols of Prussia, which were removed by the Communist regime, were added again after the reunification of Germany.
The Brandenburg Gate was closed by the communist regime on August 14, 1961, one day after the construction of the infamous Berlin Wall. Since then, it has become the symbol of the division of Berlin and Germany and consequently, Pariser Platz, the square facing the gate, became desolate.
The Berlin Wall, officially referred by the GDR authorities as the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart, was erected with the intention to prevent the massive emigration and defection that had marked East Germany and the communist Eastern Bloc during the post-World War II period. It is said that, during the years of the Wall, the number of people who died trying to cross the Wall is estimated to be more than 200, while around 5,000 people successfully escaped to West Berlin.
On November 1989, when the Wall of Shame finally fell, people flocked around the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate at their hearts’ content. The grand Brandenburg Gate, which reopened in December that year, was thoroughly renovated in 2000-2002. The gate, often a site for lots of major historical events and a symbol of the tumultuous past, now stands as a symbol of peace and reunited Germany.