Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor)

The world-famous construction, adorned with a quadriga, became a symbol of German unification and of the fall of the Berlin Wall. No visit to Germany's main city is complete without a visit to the grandiose arch, which is engraved on 20 and 50 euro cent coins.

History of construction

In the 18th century Berlin still had parts of a defensive structure, the customs wall. It encircled the city and had 14 passageways. The only parts of the wall that survive today are the Brandenburg Gate (originally known as the Peace Gate), which was built between 1788 and 1791, during the reign of Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm II von Preußen. It was he who commissioned the architect Carl Gotthard Langhans to build the arch copied from the main entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. The road through it led to Brandenburg, the town that gave its name to the western entrance to the capital.

In 1793 a quadriga designed by the German artist and sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow was placed on top of the structure. The chariot, ruled by the goddess of peace Eirene, has its own history: in 1806 Napoleon, after conquering Berlin and receiving the keys to the city, dismantled the quadriga as a sign of his triumph and brought it back to France as a trophy.

Eight years later, after the defeat of the army of the great Corsican, the chariot was ceremoniously returned to its rightful place and the goddess, now called Victoria, received an iron cross topped with a laurel wreath and the sign of Prussian power, the eagle. Between 1814 and 1919, only royalty, foreign ambassadors and members of the family of General Karl Ludwig August Friedrich von Phull were allowed to cross the central arch. In 1933, Adolf Hitler's supporters saluted their leader with torches outside the majestic structure, marking the beginning of the country's dark period.

In 1945, the Soviet victory flag flew over the triumphal arch; in 1957, the flag of the GDR was raised. Four years later, the construction of the Berlin Wall (Berliner Mauer), a 44.75 km long earthwork fortified defence structure that divided the city into two parts, began as a result of negotiations between the Warsaw Pact countries.

At this tragic time, the Brandenburg Gate was located in forbidden territory. Only East German border guards were allowed access to it. The stone structure symbolised the division of the once united country into two states and the separation of families whose members found themselves on opposite sides of the border. Crossing it was immediately fatal. The fall of the wall in December 1989 reopened the historic monument as a symbol of peace and a free Germany.


Berlin's most famous landmark is the Triumphal Arch, located at the intersection of the two central districts of Tiergarten and Mitte. The Gate is flanked on the west by Platz des 18. Maerz and on the east by Pariser Platz.

The building material was stone blocks lined with Saxon sandstone. The building is 26 metres high and 65.5 metres wide. The structure consists of two rows of 11 m thick columns placed on six pillars, forming five passageways. Originally, on both sides of the Brandenburg Gate were erected buildings for customs and military purposes. In 1867-1868 they were replaced by open porticoes and aligned with the arch.

The entire structure is crowned by a six-metre-long brass quadriga, a foursome of horses driven by the winged goddess Victoria. In her hands is a rod with a cross, an eagle and laurel leaves. The victorious goddess's gaze is directed to the east. In the north wing, in the former guardhouse, is the "Room of Silence" (Raum der Stille). Its purpose is to remind people of the tragic pages of German history.

Artistic value

The construction of the arch marked the beginning of a new era, reflecting a change in the architectural appearance of the city, which had been dominated by Baroque architecture until the 18th century. The gateway was the first building in the German Classicist style. It took examples of Greek and Roman antiquity architecture as its model. The imitation of antiquity can be seen in the design of the central part of the composition, which is characterized by six 15-metre high Doric relief columns. The diameter of their base is 1.75 m. Structurally, the columns differ from their classical Athenian prototypes in that they are reinforced inside with massive load-bearing masonry.

In the niches of the apertures are statues of a martial Mars and Minerva with a spear seated on the throne. The ceiling, the attic and the inner walls are decorated with allegorical engravings illustrating mythical scenes of the exploits of Hercules and the wars of the Thessalian tribe of Lapiths with the Centaurs. The author, Johann Schadow, intended the heroic themes to evoke associations with the reign of the monarch Friedrich Wilhelm II, who transformed Prussia into a powerful state.

Restoration of a monument

World War II bombs caused considerable damage to the architectural masterpiece. The quadriga suffered the most damage. Its remains were sent to the warehouse of the West German firm Noack. In 1950, the governments of East and West Germany — albeit not without friction — agreed to a joint restoration, which was not completed until six years later.

In 1958, the chariot, cast from the original casts, reappeared at the arch. The renewed quadriga was stripped of an important detail — an iron cross with the image of the Prussian eagle enthroned on it. The initiators of the removal of these regalia were representatives of the authorities in the eastern part of Germany. In their eyes the cross symbolised the Nazi regime.

The victorious Victoria did not regain its trophy until after the country's reunification in 1989. However, the rejoicing of the reunited Germans was so great that it contributed to the fall of the long-suffering quadriga on New Year's Eve 1989-1990. A year later, the historic gate was closed again for restoration by a private foundation for the protection of monuments and monuments at a cost of 4.3 million euros.

The main focus of the restorers was on reinforcing the rigid structures. In addition, a new laser system was used to remove the blackouts that had formed on the western side of the structure. On Unity Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit), October 3, 2002, the monument was inaugurated. The landmark is now again under threat. The construction of a new underground line running underneath the structure has caused a crack in one of the columns.

In order to protect the sandstone façade from exhaust fumes, the Berlin Senate closed the area around Brandenburg Gate to traffic in 2002. The square-shaped Paris Square has also been turned into a pedestrian zone. Today, the Arc de Triomphe and the newly built buildings next to it form a coherent ensemble.

To the right and left of the Gate are the symmetrical Max Liebermann Haus and Sommer Haus, modelled on the completely ruined structures by Prussian architect Friedrich August Stüler. One of Germany's most luxurious hotels, the Hotel Adlon Kempinski, replicates the classic style of the lost buildings.

The glass facade of the Akademie der Künste and the Dresdner Bank branch, designed by Frank Owen Gehry, a prominent contemporary architect, can be seen to the south of the hotel. Completing the ensemble is the U.S. Embassy (Botschaft der USA), built in 2008. Standing to the north of the arch are the Kennedy Museum (Das Museum The Kennedys) and the French Embassy (Französische Botschaft). Two twin fountains adorn Paris Square.

Nowadays, the famous landmark is not only a must-see tourist attraction for travellers. Several times a year, hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors to the German capital gather here. Their aim is to take part in major events such as public holidays, sports events, New Year's Eve celebrations and free gala concerts.

Address: Pariser Platz, 10117 Berlin.
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