Sunday, 8 November 2009

What to see: Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Tomorrow the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) will provide the scene for the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which will be attended by 1980s leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa and Miklós Németh and leaders of the 27 EU countries.
They will all join German Chancellor Angela Merkel in walking through the Brandenburg Gate – in itself a simple act, yet it was an impossibility for 28 years. The Wall used to run just in front of the Gate, which was also the backdrop for Ronald Reagan’s famous speech in 1987, where he urged Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. Today the Brandenburg Gate is a symbol of a unified Germany and Europe, but most of all of freedom.
The Brandenburg Gate at Pariser Platz is the only survivor of Berlin’s fifteen city gates – as the name indicates it was the gate towards the province of Brandenburg. Berlin has expanded significantly since then and the Brandenburg Gate is now right in the middle of the city centre.
It was built by the architect Carl Gotthard Langhans between 1788 and 1791, but the sculptural decorations were not completed until 1795. With its Doric columns this neoclassical structure stood in marked contrast to the Baroque mansions which surrounded Pariser Platz at the end of the 18th century. By this design Langhans so to speak brought the neoclassical style to Berlin, a city on which that style came to have great influence.
The quadriga carrying the peace goddess Eirene was done by Johann Gottfried Schadow – the original no longer exists, but the current quadriga is an exact replica. The quadriga has been turned around 180 degrees several time to face either east or west and was even taken to Paris when Napoléon I occupied Berlin in 1806.
It returned eight years later. Originally a symbol of peace, it was thereafter considered a symbol of victory. Karl Friedrich Schinkel added a staff surmounted by the Prussian eagle and the iron crass surrounded by a laurel wreath to the goddess, thus transforming her from Eirene to Victoria.
The Brandenburg Gate has seen victory parades such as that taking place after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the Nazi take-over of 1933. In 1945 the red flag was hoisted above it by Soviet soldiers. The division of Berlin which followed left the area around Brandenburg Gate a wasteland, heavily guarded by East German border guards. On 9 November 1989 the world witnessed how thousands of Germans from both east and west climbed the wall in front of Brandenburg Gate. Today Pariser Platz is again a busy square thronged by tourists and flanked by buildings such as the French and US embassies.

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