The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
The Brandenburg Gate is the symbol of Berlin and the reunited Germany as well. The six columned gate with the quadriga (a chariot drawn by four horses abreast) on top is situated at the “Pariser Platz” in the center of Berlin, next door to the American Embassy. The Reichstag is close and the avenue “Unter den Linden” connects the Brandenburg Gate with the site where the Berlin Castle is being reconstructed. The Brandenburg Gate is near the big park called the Tiergarten, as well as in walking distance to the Holocaust Memorial and former Hitler bunker.
Where is the Brandenburg Gate Located?
The Brandenburg Gate is located in the western part of Berlin’s city center. It’s located within walking distance of both the Reichstag Building and the Holocaust Memorial. The closest U-bahn station is Brandenburg Gate (see green arrow). We recommend using this link for directions to the gate from anywhere in Berlin.
The Berlin Customs Wall
But what is this ancient looking monument for? In the 18th century, Berlin abandoned the medieval wall as it had lost its military purpose. In the 1730’s, a new wall was built, this time for customs. Berlin made all the incoming merchants pay the “Akzise”, a kind of sales tax. The gates where named after the cities the outgoing roads led to. The Brandenburg Gate is named after the city of Brandenburg/Havel West of Berlin. The German state of Brandenburg is named after that place as well, because the whole history of Brandenburg and Prussia started here, in 1157 when a German prince seized, the castle “Brennaburg” or later “Brandenburg” from the Slavic tribe that had settled here before.
The Brandenburg Gate is the only gate left after the wall was destroyed in 1860. You can still find some of the other gates on the subway map: “Frankfurter Tor”, “Hallesches Tor”, “Kotbusser Tor” are stops (“Tor” is German for “gate”).
The first Brandenburg Gate from 1734 was smaller than the actual one. The Prussian King Frederick William II, the nephew of the famous Frederick II (“The Great”) commissioned the new gate, which was built between 1788 and 1791. He commemorated it to his famous uncle, hoping to take advantage of the latter’s fame. He didn’t quite live up to his own expectations though; they called him “the fat good-for-nothing”.
The actual Brandenburg Gate is 26 meters (85 feet) in height by 65 meters (215 feet) in width and was modeled after the “Propylaea”, the ancient entrance gate to the Acropolis in Athens. The architect Carl Gottfried Langhans designed the broader middle space for the royal carriages and the smaller spaces on the sides for pedestrians. Until 1918, when the Kaiser resigned after World War I, only the members of the royal or imperial family, the “Hohenzollern” were allowed to use the middle passageway. The whole construction made of sandstone is strictly ancient Greece and thus an example of the neoclassical architecture.
Gottfried Schadow sculptured the copper quadriga in 1793. The figure on the chariot is a Greek goddess. She looks into the city, but had turned around once in a while during the last more than 200 years.
In 1806, after he had won the battle of Jena and Auerstedt against the Prussians, the French Emperor Napoleon took the quadriga to Paris along with a lot more of looted art. After Napoleon was defeated in 1814, the Prussians took the quadriga back. Until then, the lady on the chariot had word a laurel trophy, the symbol of peace, and represented Eirene, the Greek goddess of peace. During the renovation of the sculpture, the laurel was changed into the more militant oak decorating the “iron cross” the Prussian and later German medal for military achievements and the Prussian eagle. So, Eirene changed to the goddess of victory, Victoria.
The Nazi State and World War II
On January 30, 1933, the Nazis celebrated the so-called Machtergreifung (the seizure of power) with a torchlight procession of the SA (a paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party, the NSDAP) through the Brandenburg Gate. This was one of several symbolic acts to position the Nazi state within the tradition of Prussia.
During the Second World War, the gate and the sculpture were damaged. Only the head of one horse is left and is now in the “Märkisches Museum”. As a plaster mold had been taken in 1942, the quadriga could be reconstructed. This was done; believe it or not, in the German Democratic Republic, the DDR, the socialist German state in 1956, but the iron cross and the eagle were taken away as a symbol of German militarism.
The Cold War
After the construction of the Wall in 1961, the Brandenburg Gate was within the exclusion zone and inaccessible from West and East alike. On August 14, 1961 people from West Berlin together with their mayor, Willy Brandt, had rallied against the construction of the Wall. This gave the East German government a pretext to close the checkpoint at the Brandenburg Gate “until further notice”. As it could be seen from the West, the Brandenburg Gate became a symbol of the German partition and the desire of reunification.
In June 1987, during a visit in Berlin (West) the American President Ronald Reagan came to the Western side of the Brandenburg Gate and said the famous words: „Mr. Gorbachev open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!“
The Brandenburg Gate Today
On December 22, 1989, the Brandenburg Gate was officially reopened with 100,000 people cheering. The gate and the quadriga needed refurbishing, which was done between 2000 and 2002. October 3, 2002 the refurbished gate was officially reopened and the quadriga got its iron cross and eagle back.
Motor vehicles cannot pass the Brandenburg Gate, as the sandstone would not survive the pollution. But the finish of the annual Berlin Marathon in September is 300 meters behind the Brandenburg Gate.
The Brandenburg Gate is omnipresent these days: on logos representing Berlin companies or Berlin and German authorities, on all kind of Berlin merchandise, you can buy it as a 3-D-jigsaw puzzle or a Lego set. And you find the Brandenburg Gate on the German 10-, 20- and 50-cent coins (yes, every state of the Euro-zone has its national verso).
Make sure not to miss our tours! As the Brandenburg Gate is such an important monument, we will see it on all our three tours: The Berlin-in-a-in a day-Walking Tour, the Berlin Wall Tour and the Third Reich Tour.