Built between 1788 and 1791, the Brandenburg Gate was created as a replacement for a series of guard houses along the Customs Wall. Designed by Carl Gotthard and commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm II, it was planned as a monument to peace and to mimic the entrance hall of the Acropolis in Athens. The sculpture that adorns its head (called the quadriga) is a rendition of the goddess of victory, carrying peace into the city.
Since its construction, the Brandenburg Gate has played a part in numerous historical moments. In 1806 Napoleon marched on the city and took the quadriga back to Paris, a spoil of war. In 1814 it was restored to Berlin, and the goddess’ oak wreath with an iron cross, transforming what was a symbol of peace into a symbol of victory. At the time only the royal family was allowed to pass through its central arch.
The Brandenburg Gate also played a part in Nazi Germany and was often used a party symbol. During the fighting and bombing that followed, the gate was badly damaged and was the only of what was once a series of gates to survive World War II.
With the Berlin Wall dividing post-war Berlin, the gate became inaccessible. When the Wall was opened in 1989, it again featured prominently, both practically and symbolically, as East and West Germans were again able to pass beneath its arches.
“The Brandenburg Gate is the trademark of Berlin. The main entrance to the city, surrounded by the wall for thirty years, was known throughout the world as a symbol for the division of the city and for the division of the world into two power blocs,” explains the Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment website.
Three U.S. Presidents have spoken there, including Ronald Reagan, John. F. Kennedy, and in June 2013, Barack Obama.
The Brandenburg Gate today
Today the Brandenburg Gate serves as a reminder of what has been, what is, and what could be. Almost 300,000 tourists visit this monumental bit of German history every year. Politicians tap the symbolic power of the monument by using it as a backdrop for speeches, and anyone is welcome to join the thousands-strong New Year’s Eve celebrations there ever January 31st.
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