The Brandenburg Gate

Long ago, Berlin was a small, walled city within a fort with several gates: Spandauer Thor, St. Georgen Thor, Stralower Thor, Copernicker Thor, Neue Thor, and Leipziger Thor. The Brandenburg Gate is in the heart of Berlin today, at the junction of Unter den Linden, which formerly led directly to the city palace of the Prussian monarchs, and Ebertstraße, immediately west of the Pariser Platz. It was in recent times a symbol of the German partition, dividing the city and severing a nation in two, especially after the construction of the Berlin Wall close by.

Above left to right: The Gate in the 1815; during napoleon’s invasion of Berlin; around 1900

It was commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia as a sign of peace and built by Carl Gotthard Langhans from 1788 to 1791. Langhans rebuilt it from an older Gate from 1734 into a magnificent building. He found his inspiration in Greek antiquity and used the Propyläen of the Athen Arkopolis as an example. The highlight of the gate is the Quadriga, designed by Gottfried Schadow, consisting of a chariot drawn by four horses driven by Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory. When Napoleon’s troops marched through the Brandenburg Gate in 1806, they kidnapped the goddess which graced the top of the Quadriga and transported it to Paris by ship. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 and the Prussian occupation of Paris by General Ernst von Pfuel, the Quadriga was restored to Berlin and Victoria’s wreath of oak leaves was supplemented with a new proud national symbol, the Iron Cross, which Schinkel set up on the staff of the goddess. Only the imperial family and members of the Pfuel family were allowed to drive trough the middle passage of the Brandenburg Gate until 1918, when the Emperor Wilhelm II abdicated.

Above left to right: The Gate in the 1890s; in 1945; in the 1960s

Ferocious Allied bombs all but destroyed it in the War, and it was derided as a symbol of “Prussian militarism.” The communist Soviet flag flew from a flagpole atop the gate from 1945 until 1957, when it was replaced by an East German flag. The goddess was again kidnapped, this time by the communist government of East Germany in 1958, to strip it of the iron cross and the eagle, not wanting to “encourage German nationalism.” Since the reunification of Germany, the flag and the pole have been removed and the iron cross and the eagle replaced. The Brandenburg Gate was more fully restored from 2000 to 2002.