6 August 1791, the Brandenburg Gate was opened, one of the world’s best known symbols, a symbol of Germany, of partition of not just Berlin but all of Europe. At its origin, as today, it was a symbol of peace and tolerance but it was also used by the Nazis and their Communist successors as a sign of their intolerance.
It was originally built by Frederick William II of Prussia and designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, the Court Superintendent of Buildings. Langhans wanted to created something like an Athens on the Spree and the Brandenburg gate is based upon the gateway to the Acropolis. It was constructed on the site of guardhouses between 1788 and 1791. The gate is 1,026 cm high and has has twelve Doric columns, six to each side. There are five walkways through the gate.
The gate is topped by a chariot drawn by four horses and was first named the Peace Gate.
The gate is of course often associated with armies marching and the first one to do this was the French army and Napoleon took the horse drawn chariot to Paris. The Prussians got it back in 1814 after Napoleon was defeated for the first time.
Other military marches through the gate include the victory marches after the campaigns against France in 1871 and 1940 as well as the rather pathetic march of the Home Guard (Volkssturm) organised by Goebbels in 1944. It was also the location of a torch light procession on the night of 30 January 1933 when Hitler was appointed Chancellor. The Soviets also used it in their propaganda posters with slogans exorting their troops to victory with an image of a gate somewhat similar to that of the Brandenburg Gate. The gate survived the bombing and the battle for Berlin in World War II although somewhat damaged mainly from fighting in this area on 30 April – 1 May 1945.
Following WW2, Berlin was divided but until 13 August 1961, citizens of East Berlin could travel to the east and vice versa. On that day the city was cut in two by the construction of the wall. The gate found itself almost directly on the border just inside East Berlin.
This symbol of a divided Europe was the backdrop for speeches by US Presidents Kennedy and Reagan. Kennedy announced that he was a sausage – ich bin ein Berliner (he should have said ich bin Berliner – but never mind, the crowd understood. On 12 June 1987, Reagan memorably asked Mr Gorbachev to tear down this wall.
The crossing point was permanently closed the day following the commencement of the construction of the wall and remained so until 22 December 1989 when the first person to cross was Helmut Kohl, the West German chancellor who was met on the eastern side by Hans Modrow, the East German prime minister. The wall was pulled down here in 1990. I was there in April 1990, I wish I had been as keen on filming things as I am now because the only record I now have of this event is in my memory!
Traffic no longer passes under The Brandenburg Gate and the Pariser Platz to its east is a pedestrian zone which flanked by the Adlon Hotel and the French embassy does somewhat give the area the feel of the beginning of the twentieth century.
And today you can walk right through it as though it was never the second most closely guarded border in the world!