Brandenburg Gate

Berlin, Germany

The Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) is an 18th-century neoclassical triumphal arch in Berlin, and one of the best-known landmarks of Germany. It is built on the site of a former city gate that marked the start of the road from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg an der Havel.

In the time of Frederick William (1688), shortly after the Thirty Years" War and a century before the gate was constructed, Berlin was a small walled city within a star fort with several gates. Relative peace, a policy of religious tolerance, and status as capital of the Kingdom of Prussia facilitated the growth of the city. The Brandenburg Gate was not part of the old fortifications, but one of 18 gates within the Berlin Customs Wall, erected in the 1730s, including the old fortified city and many of its then suburbs.

The new gate was commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm II to represent peace. The Gate was designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, the Court Superintendent of Buildings, and built between 1788 and 1791, replacing the earlier simple guard houses siding the original gate in the Customs Wall. The gate consists of 12 Doric columns, six to each side, forming five passageways. Citizens originally were allowed to use only the outermost two on each side. Atop the gate is the Quadriga, a chariot drawn by four horses. The new gate was originally named the Peace Gate and the goddess is Eirene, the goddess of peace.

The Brandenburg Gate has played different political roles in German history. After the 1806 Prussian defeat at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, Napoleon was the first to use the Brandenburg Gate for a triumphal procession, and took its Quadriga to Paris.

After Napoleon"s defeat in 1814 and the Prussian occupation of Paris by General Ernst von Pfuel, the Quadriga was restored to Berlin. It was now redesigned by Karl Friedrich Schinkel for the new role of the Brandenburg Gate as a Prussian triumphal arch; the goddess, now definitely Victoria, was equipped with the Prussian eagle and Iron Cross on her lance with a wreath of oak leaves.

The Quadriga faces east, as it did when it was originally installed in 1793. Only the royal family was allowed to pass through the central archway, as well as members of the Pfuel family, from 1814 to 1919. In addition, the central archway was also used by the coaches of ambassadors on the single occasion of their presenting their letters of credence to council.

When the Nazis ascended to power, they used the gate as a party symbol. The gate survived World War II and was one of the damaged structures still standing in the Pariser Platz ruins in 1945 (another being the Academy of Fine Arts). The gate was badly damaged with holes in the columns from bullets and nearby explosions. One horse’s head from the original quadriga survived, today kept in the collection of the Märkisches Museum.

Vehicles and pedestrians could travel freely through the gate, located in East Berlin, until the Berlin Wall was built, 13 August 1961. Then one of the eight Berlin Wall crossings was opened on the eastern side of the gate, usually not open for East Berliners and East Germans, who from then on needed a hard-to-obtain exit visa. On 14 August, West Berliners gathered on the western side of the gate to demonstrate against the Berlin Wall, among them West Berlin"s governing Mayor Willy Brandt, who had spontaneously returned from a federal election campaigning tour in West Germany earlier on the same day.

Under the pretext that Western demonstrations required it, the East closed the checkpoint at the Brandenburg Gate the same day, "until further notice", a situation that was to last until 22 December 1989. The wall was erected as an arc just west of the gate, cutting off access from West Berlin. On the eastern side, the 'baby Wall', drawn across the eastern end of Pariser Platz rendered it off limits to East Berliners, as well.

When the Revolutions of 1989 occurred and the wall fell, the gate symbolized freedom and the desire to unify the city of Berlin. Thousands of people gathered at the wall to celebrate its fall on 9 November 1989. On 22 December 1989, the Brandenburg Gate border crossing was reopened when Helmut Kohl, the West German chancellor, walked through to be greeted by Hans Modrow, the East German prime minister. Demolition of the rest of the wall around the area took place the following year.

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Founded: 1788-1791
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Historical period: Emerging States (Germany)

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