The Brandenburg Gate is an 18th-century neoclassical monument in Berlin, built on the orders of the Prussian King Frederick William II and is one of the best-known landmarks of Germany – one might say it is the epicenter of German culture and history. It was 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, which used to be the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg.
Throughout its existence, the Brandenburg Gate was often a site for major historical events and is today considered not only as a symbol of the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, but also of European unity and peace.
Originally named the Peace Gate (oh, now isn’t that ironic). It was completed in 1791 and consists of twelve Doric¹ columns, six to each side, forming five passageways. Citizens were originally allowed to use only the outermost two on each side with the central archway being reserved for the royal family (oh, now isn’t that German). Its design is based on the Propylaea, the gateway to the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, and is consistent with Berlin’s history of architectural classicism. The gate was the first element of a “new Athens on the River Spree” by architect Car Gotthard Langhans. Atop the gate is a sculpture by Johann Gottfried Schadow of a quadriga² – a chariot drawn by four horses – driven by Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory.
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 then promptly took the quadriga with him back to to Paris. After Napoleon’s subsequent defeat in 1812, the quadriga was restored atop the gate now bearing a Prussian eagle and Iron Cross.
Badly damaged during the end of WWII, it was repaired by the Allies. Subsequently with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 it became a prominent demarcation point between East Berlin (the Soviet occupation zone) and West Berlin (the British, French and American occupation zone) – sitting just inside East Berlin.
On June 12, 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave his famous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” speech just outside the Wall, with the Brandenburg Gate in the background.
On June 09, 2013 U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a speech at the gate about being “proud to stand on its Eastern side to pay tribute to the past”.
Since reunification in 1990 the area east of the Brandenburg Gate, in the borough of Mitte (formerly in East Berlin), has become the center of Berlin tourism, culture and trendiness (this is of course where I stayed).
I visited the Brandenburg Gate on April 08, 2018, with the Missus and The Goddaughter, and tried to honor the above history and my German heritage as best I could (see below photo).
Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details which while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.
¹ In Greek and Roman architecture, there are five orders of columns:
- Doric (Greek): The most plain
- Ionic (Greek): Has the scrolls
- Corinthian (Greek): The most fancy
- Tuscan (Roman): Very plain design. It is a simplified adaptation of the Doric order with an unfluted shaft
- Composite (Roman): Mixed, combining the scroll of the Ionic with the leaves of the Corinthian
Note: The Khan Academy does a fine job explaining the first three.
² A quadriga is the type of chariot driven by Judah Ben-Hur and Messala in the movie Ben Hur.
³ Miklós Horthy was a Hungarian admiral and statesman who served as the regent of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1920 – 1944. On his state visit to Germany in August 1938, Hitler asked Horthy for troops and materiel to participate in Germany’s planned invasion of Czechoslovakia. In exchange, Horthy later reported, “He gave me to understand that as a reward we should be allowed to keep the territory we had invaded.” Horthy said he declined, insisting to Hitler that Hungary’s claims on the disputed lands should be settled by peaceful means.