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The Brandenburger Tor: Berlin’s ultimate symbol of freedom

No place has played such a prominent role in Berlin’s turbulent history as the Brandenburger Tor (Gate). This is where it all happened: Napoleon’s triumphal procession, Nazi parades and Hitler’s grim speeches, a no-man's land during the Cold War, JFK’s visit, Ronald Reagan's speech and the spontaneous street celebrations after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dive into Berlin’s turbulent history at its only remaining city gate.

The Brandenburg Gate was built between 1788 and 1791 as a city gate and a symbol for peace. During the Cold War, the Gate suddenly found itself in the no-man’s zone between East and West and thus became a symbol of stolen freedom. In his famous speech ‘Tear Down This Wall’ of June 1987, American president Reagan said: "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Two years later the German people did just that and in November 1989 the first ‘Ossies’ (East-Germans) walked through the Brandenburg Gate to find freedom. After that, the Gate represented not only peace, but also freedom.

Symbol for peace and freedom: the Brandenburg Gate
Symbol for peace and freedom: the Brandenburg Gate

Berliini

Three decades in the Kill Zone

Although today the Brandenburg Gate has become the symbol for freedom and German reunification, the Gate once represented Berlin’s division. In the 1950s, approximately 2.5 million East-Germans fled the GDR. To put an end to the ‘west’s practices of stealing people’, party leader Walter Ulbricht decided to lock up the people of East Germany. Construction of the Wall began at the Brandenburg Gate, which after World War II had ended up in the Soviet Zone.


On the west side of the Gate, a front wall was built - a huge barrier of reinforced concrete. Several dozen metres away, on the east side of the Gate, a back wall was built with impregnable barbed wire. Suddenly the 18th-century city gate no longer stood in the middle of a bustling city, but in a no-man’s land full of watch towers, search lights, alarm installations and heavily armed Volkspolizisten.


All other buildings in the 'kill zone' were abruptly demolished, but the Brandenburg Gate was a little too monumental, even for the GDR top brass. When after almost 4 decades the Berlin Wall fell, large crowds of East and West Germans gathered here to celebrate. A red line now marks the former location of the Wall.

“Suddenly the city gate stood in the kill zone, full of watch towers and armed Volkspolizisten”

For decades the Brandenburg Gate was a symbol of a divided Berlin

Eirene, the centre of the battle

The quadriga that crowns the Brandenburg Gate has an equally eventful history. The bronze sculpture depicts a chariot with Eirene, the Greek goddess of peace, who drives the four horses with a Prussian staff and eagle in hand. After the French occupation of Berlin, Napoleon shipped the sculpture to Paris as a war spoil. After the Battle of Waterloo, the Germans triumphantly returned the sculpture to Berlin. During World War II, the allied troops fought hard to prevent the Russian flag from being hoisted by shooting Eirene to smithereens. However, another uprising followed and after a thorough restoration the chariot has been restored to its bronze-green glory.

Eirene, the bronze Greek goddess of peace

Photo credits

  • For decades the Brandenburg Gate was a symbol of a divided Berlin: Romtomtom, Flickr