This post is about The Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor), its history, architecture, and what to see and do here.
The Brandenburg Gate is the symbol of Berlin and the reunited Germany as well.
- Where Is It?
- Early History
- Architecture and Symbolism
- WW2 + The Cold War
- Events and Things to Do Here
The Brandenburg Gate is located in the western part of Berlin's city center.
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 closest U-bahn and S-bahn station is Brandenburg Gate (see green arrow). We recommend using this link for directions to the gate from anywhere in Berlin.
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.
This first Brandenburg Gate from 1734 was smaller than the current one.
The gates were named after the cities the outgoing roads led to, such as Hamburger Tor or Potsdamer Tor.
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.
The Brandenburg Gate is the only gate left after the wall was destroyed in 1860.
You can still find some of the other gates as place names on the public transit map: “Frankfurter Tor”, “Hallesches Tor”, “Kotbusser Tor”, "Oranienburger Tor".
Tor is German for gate.
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 is supported by 6 doric columns on both fronts.
It 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 neoclassical architecture.
Johann Gottfried Schadow sculpted the quadriga in 1793, which was cast in copper.
The figure on the chariot is a Greek goddess. She looks into the city.
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 it to the Roman goddess of victory, Victoria.
Just underneath the quadriga is a relief celebrating the victories of unification.
Among other figures, the relief includes Nike, the goddess of victory, Hercules, the god of strengh, Cornucopia, the goddess of plenty, and Komus, the goddess of joy.
Inside of the five passageways are reliefs on both sides of each wall for a total of 20 reliefs.
All reliefs depict scenes of Hercules and were designed to pay homage to Frederick the Great.
On both the southern and northern sides of the gate are columned porticos, where you will find 2 additional sculptural pieces.
One the southern end is Mars, the god of war, with his sword in its sheath, depicting the end of conflict.
On the northern end is Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and many, many other traits, but in this instance, her role of protector of city states is likely a focus.
From Pariser Platz, you can see two side buildings that look like small temples.
The one on the left was originally built to house the soldiers who were guarding the gate and controlling who could enter and exit.
Today, it houses a small tourist information booth run by Visit Berlin, where you could pick up maps, souvenirs, and other things.
The temple house to the right of the gate was originally built to house the tax authorities, who were tasked with collecting the custom duties.
Today, it houses the Raum der Stille, or the Room of Silence, a place of prayer and contemplation.
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.
However, the iron cross and the eagle were taken away because they were widely seen as symbols of German militarism.
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 during the Cold War 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!“
And on November 9th, 1989, a crowd totalling in the thousands descended on the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate.
They came to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall at the most symbolic sight of the separation of Berlin and Germany during the Cold War.
On December 22, 1989, the Brandenburg Gate was officially reopened with 100,000 people cheering.
However, the gate and the quadriga needed refurbishing, which was done between 2000 and 2002.
On 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.
You can't enter or climb the gate. It's just there to walk through and to admire from various viewpoints.
Many events take place here.
Notable Sights around Pariser Platz
Tourist Information Office
As mentioned above, the old temple that once housed the guards at the Brandenburg Gate is now a tourist vistor center.
Here you can purchase souvenirs, hats, and umbrellas, as well as tickets to attractions and make hotel bookings.
It is also outside of this office where many walking tours start from, including our tours.
To the left of the tourist visitor center is the Embassy of the United States of America.
Along with France, Great Britain, and the Russian, Federation, the U.S. Embassy takes up prime real estate alongside the Brandenburg Gate.
Frank Gehry Sculpture
To the left of the the American Embassy is the DZ Bank Building, which has an interesting atrium area/event space.
When no event is taking place, you may be granted access to the lobby where you can see a remarkable space and sculpture designed by Gehry.
The sculpture is made of titanium and is alternatively known as The Whale, keeping in line with Gehry's fascination with fish.
Akademie der Künste (Berlin Academy of Art)
This is one of two buildings that houses Berlin's premier art and cultural institution.
This building hosts artistic exhibitions, lectures, and other events, most requiring tickets, which you could learn about here.
There is also a reading room, a book shop and a cafe.
Hotel Adlon Kempinski
The Hotel from the mid 1990s is a luxury hotel with many celebrity guests like Pierce Brosnan, Renée Zellwege, Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Chaplin and Queen Elizabeth.
Arguably the most famous or infamous celebrity was Michael Jackson, who made headlines when he held his baby out of the window of his suite.
The original Adlon from 1907 was destroyed during the Second World War.
Unter den Linden
The street before you here connects the Brandenburg Gate with the Berlin Cathedral and the Berlin Palace/Humbult Forum.
The name of the street means "Under the Linden Trees" (or lime trees) that once again line its path.
Today, Unter den Linden is lined with many important buildings that have been rebuilt since the end of WW2.
The western side of the Brandenburg Gate is dominated by Tiergarten, Berlin's central park.
It’s a great place of recreation with water features, statues and flower beds and it’s right next to Germany’s oldest zoo, the Berlin Zoologischer Garten.
In the center of a traffic circle you find the “Siegessäule”, the victory column, commemorating three wars that led to the union of Germany in the German Empire in 1871.
Reagan's Speech Commemorative Plaque
Located on the sidewalk west of the gate, near the spot where he delivered his speech, is a plaque commemorating President Reagan's address.
Just 300 meters to the north lies the Reichstag Building, the home of the German parliament, the Bundestag.
You can visit the inside of the Reichstag by taking a tour, and/or you can visit the buildings dome.
We explain how to do this in our post on visiting the Reichstag.
Events at The Brandenburg Gate
Throughout the year, there are recurring events that take place, at least partly at the Brandenburg Gate.
Additionally, there are pop up events as well as protest and political events throughout the year that are not recurring.
Below are some of the bigger recurring events.
New Year's Eve
Each year, a big, open-air celebration called "Celebrate at the Gate" for ringing in the new year takes place at the Brandenburg Gate, or nearby.
Live national and international musical acts make up much of the show.
In previous years, a major fireworks show was a part of it, but those have been suspended indefinitely.
Tickets are limited and free of charge, so make sure you plan well in advance, if you'd like to take part.
And on New Year's Day, there is a non-competitive, 4km run called the Neusahrslauf (New Year's Run).
This yearly event usually takes place around the end of September.
The 42km marathon snakes its way through the city, but the finish line is the Brandenburg Gate, which has viewing stands.
Fest Zum Tag der Deutschen Einheit (Day of Germany Unity Festival)
October 3 is a national holiday that celebrates the official reunification of the country in 1990.
It's a 3-day festival that takes place on the western side of the Brandenburg Gate on the Platz der Republic.
Expect street food, musical acts, poetry readings, plays, and rides.
Festival of Lights
This terrific event is filled with light and video projections that illuminate buildings and landmarks throughout the city.
Top sights include the Brandenburg Gate, the TV Tower, the Berlin Cathedral, and dozens of other locations.
Each year has a different overall theme, but every year is guaranteed to be colourful and beautiful.