Brandenburg Gate — Surviving Two Centuries Of Berlin Change

The last remaining of Berlin's fourteen city gates, Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor), may be the most familiar symbol of the city now that the Berlin Wall is gone. Located just west of the Pariser Platz at the eastern entrance to the Tiergarten, The Brandenburg Gate was designed during the rule of Frederick Wilhelm II. Its construction, modeled after the entrance of Athens’ Acropolis, was finished in 1795.

At one time, the pavilions on either side of the Gate's colonnade housed guard and customs offices. The Gate’s frieze’s have scenes straight from Greek mythology, but its crowning glory is the Schadow sculpture "Quadriga," a magnificent representation of a chariot drawn by four horses abreast. While most classic Quadrigas are guided by female figures representing either Victory or Fame, Frederich Wilhelm II wanted the Eirene, the winged female driving his Quadriga, to be a symbol of peace.

I can't think of any other Berlin monument, however, which has had a less peaceful history than the Brandenburg Gate! When the French defeated Prussia and occupied Berlin just eleven years after the Gate was finished, Napoleon ordered the Quadriga removed and shipped to Paris. In only three years, however, it returned to Berlin when Germany defeated France, and Eirene became a symbol of victory! She was adorned with a staff topped by the Prussian eagle, and the iron cross with a laurel wreath.

Prior to the establishment of the German Reich in 1871, those passing though the Gate had to pay a fee. From then until 1920, Berlin belonged to the Brandenburg-Prussia province of the Reich, but in 1920 was granted status as an independent city. The Gate again served as a border separating the Brandenburg-Prussia province from the German Capital District.

The Gate’s claim to being a symbol of peace was forgotten in 1933 with the torchlight procession of the Nazi Storm Troopers, establishing Adolf Hitler as Germany's new leader. Over the next twelve years, Berlin and Germany would experience the darkest days of their long histories, and the Brandenburg Gate would see the Russian flag flying over it in May of 1945.

The Gate itself was seriously damaged during World War II, and eventually became a sad symbol of divided Berlin, thanks to its location close to the center of the city and right on the Berlin Wall. In June of 1953, a group of East Berlin workers staged an uprising on their side of the Gate, and twenty-five of them lost their lives when the Soviets responded with tanks. In their memory the boulevard leading west from the Brandenburg gate into the Tiergarten had its name changed to Straße de 17 Juni.

Ten years later, American president John F. Kennedy gave his famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate, but the Soviets had draped enormous red banners across its eastern face to prevent him from looking into East Berlin! I think that for many people all of this might seem pointless in retrospect, but that was the Cold War!

A second American president, Ronald Reagan, made another speech at the Brandenburg Date in 1987, but it took another two years before the Soviet Union began to crumble, and in November of 1989, East Germany officially granted its citizens permission to freely cross into West Germany. The first ones to do so came to Brandenburg Gate and simply climbed the Wall!

Brandenburg Gate was permanently opened on December 22, 1989. It took another year for Germany and Berlin to be officially reunified, so for that entire time Brandenburg Gate functioned as a crossing between two sovereign states Today, if you visit Brandenburg Gate, walking through it will simply take you from Berlin-Mitte to Berlin-Tiergarten, and all that remains of the Wall is a line of bricks in the pavement marking where it once stood.


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