Thursday's Child: The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Thursday, June 4, 2015
Last week I wrote about the Reichstag, one of the symbols of the reunification of East and West Berlin. The Brandenburg Gate is another powerful icon of a divided city that became one.

The Brandenburg Gate was originally built in the late eighteenth century in what was then Prussia, as a symbol of peace. It lies at the western opening of Unter den Linden, the lovely boulevard that translates as Under the Lindens. The wide street and linden trees that line both of its sides made it an appealing home for a gate.

The sculpture on top is known as a quadriga, and it depicts the goddess of victory being pulled in a chariot by four horses. Shortly after the gate was built, Napoleon's armies invaded Berlin, and he took the quadriga as a symbol of his victory. However, it ended up in storage, and was discovered a few years later when Paris was captured by the Prussian soldiers. It was returned triumphantly in 1814, the only difference being the addition of an iron cross to symbolize the victory over Paris.

Ironically for a tribute to peace, the gate suffered extensive damage in the Second World War. And it has also been used as a rallying point for shows of power. In 1933, a parade of Nazis processed through en route to the presidential palace. After the city was split in two by the Berlin Wall in 1961, the Brandenburg Gate became almost unreachable, since the wall was mere inches away. For that reason, it became a powerful symbol of the separation of the two parts of this city.

The gate was the site of Ronald Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech in 1987. At reunification in December 1989, the West German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, walked through the newly accessible gate to shake hands with the East German Prime Minister, Hans Modrow. After reunification, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were just two of the leaders who used the gate as backdrop to oratory.

The gate continues to be a powerful gathering point for the city. Last July, hundreds of thousands of Berliners gathered there to watch the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. After the German victory, the players paraded through the gate and down Unter den Linden in front of 400,000 cheering fans.

As a North American who hadn't visited Berlin before last summer, the Brandenburg Gate nonetheless had a huge place in my imagination. I remember hearing Reagan's words to Mikhail Gorbachev and thinking the wall would never come down. But then the unexpected happened, and the wall fell. Some of the most powerful photographs I've ever seen depicted the citizens of East and West Berlin embracing each other as they stood on the Berlin Wall in November 1989, with the Brandenburg Gate in the background.




17 comments:

Nicholas Pengelley said...

As someone born in '61, the year the wall went up, I never thought to see it come down. I'll never forget those days in '89. I still get emotional when I think about them.

Liz Berg said...

Germany is high on our travel bucket list---maybe next summer! I'd love to see this iconic gate :)

handmade by amalia said...

What an interesting post, so full of history. Glad I found you.
Amalia
xo

Beth said...

Thanks for stopping by, Nicholas. It was pretty amazing to see it come down, wasn't it?

And Liz, I'm pretty sure you and Bill will make it to Germany someday! You've mentioned it before, and I know you'd both love it.

Laura Dembowski said...

I really like that you do your research on these posts. It's so nice that you make sure you are informed. A much easier way to learn than history class ;)

Cakelaw said...

I enjoyed reading about the Brandenburg Gate - I am yet to see Berlin, so this transported me there.

Marcela said...

I've been there twice! Lovely place and fantastic history! Thanks for sharing, Beth!

sneha P A said...

Heyya..I really like that you do your research on these posts. It's so nice that you make sure you are informed. A much easier way to learn than history class ;) What an interesting post, so full of history. Glad I found you.

Tricia Buice said...

Love the history in your stories and photos. I can't wait to travel in Germany one day. On the list!

Gloria Baker said...

Germany look like a really amazing placd Beth :)

Barbara said...

You've been giving us a fascinating history of Germany with these posts, Beth. I do remember those days...imprinted on my mind forever.

amy (fearless homemaker) said...

I love your travel posts! So full of rich history. Even though I've been to Germany, I've never been to Berlin, so this is something I've never seen in person. Luckily, I feel like I'm traveling there along with you. =)

grace said...

i'm so envious of all your travels, but it's okay because you make the most of your trips and really take time to appreciate the history!! :)

Pam said...

That was quite a time in history and I remember well the wall and President Reagan speaking. Germany is a beautiful historic country!

Katerina said...

Although I have been to Germany many times Berlin was not one of the cities I visited. They all tell me is beautiful and I do hope one day to visit. Thank you for the info!

Juliana Levine said...

I have been to Germany only as a quick stop...thanks for this nice post Beth...
Have a great week :)

Kitchen Riffs said...

I remember both when the wall went up and came down. Didn't really understand the significance when it went up, and was amazed when it fell. I love Berlin -- only been once, but so much history and culture. Great post -- thanks.

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