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War & Peace
Brandenburg Gate (Berlin, Germany)
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Brandenburg Gate (Berlin, Germany)
Advantages: Free; easy to get to; lots of history
Disadvantages: Very busy; lots of people trying to make you part with your money
Understandably the Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin's most visited landmarks. It is close to many other visitor attractions and is easily accessible. That the eastern side of the gate is an open traffic free area means that the area has become a place for people to meet, where street performers carry out their business and where souvenir sellers hawk their wares. I would imagine that few visitors don't at least pass by the Brandenburg Gate; it's a stop on the 'hop on, hop off' bus tours of the city and it stands beside a busy traffic junction on one side, and at the end of one of the city's most famous streets.
The structure dates from the late eighteenth century and was commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm; it was to represent a celebration of peace. It was built on the site of an existing gate, not one of the original city gates which were built much earlier but one that was part of a customs wall that surrounded the city since the 1730s. The earlier gate was very simple with twin guard houses either side of the gate. Architect Carl Gotthard Langhans designed a gate with twelve columns in the Doric style - six on each side - which created five passages. Standing on the lintel above the columns is the Quadriga, the statue which depicts a grand Roman chariot steered by Victoria, goddess of victory, and drawn by four horses. If the design looks familiar it's probably because it's based on the archway entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. As you pass through the spaces between the columns you can see relief friezes on each sandstone wall; these depict scenes from ancient history and mythology.
In 1806 after Napoleon's victory in the Battle of Jena Auersted, he had a victory parade through the Brandenburg Gate, then had the Quadriga taken to Paris; however, after Napoleon's defeat in 1814 and the Prussian occupation of the French capital, the Quadriga was returned to its original location and an Iron Cross was added to the statue. From this point until 1919, only members of the Royal Family were permitted to pass through the central archway.
The gate suffered a lot of damage during the Second World War and after the end of the war there was a joint effort between the governments of East and West Berlin to restore the monument though the repairs were quite obvious. In 2000, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate was restored privately with the bill coming in at around 6 million Euro.
When the Berlin Wall came into effect on 13th August the Brandenburg Gate become one of eight gateways within the walls. The following day the western side of the gate became the scene of a demonstration led by the Mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt. In response the East Germans closed the gate the same day, supposedly 'until further notice' but the gate remained firmly closed until the wall fell in 1989. On order to keep the citizens of East Berlin away from the gate, another, smaller wall was built at the end of the Pariser Platz.
Those visiting the Brandenburg Gate today can enter the Room of Silence ('Raum der Stille) in the guardhouse on the northern side of the gate. I thought this is a great idea because among all the hustle and bustle and kitsch around the gate and on the Pariser Platz today, it's easy to lose touch with the significance, especially in recent history, of the monument. The room is a haven of tranquillity and a good place to contemplate what the monument stands for today.
A branch of the Berlin Tourist Information Centre is housed in the south guardhouse of the Brandenburg Gate. Walking from our hotel this was the first TIC we'd come to so we took the opportunity to buy Berlin Welcome Cards and to pick up lots of literature about things we might want to visit. This TIC has an extensive range of souvenirs so if you're passing through on a whistle-stop tour this would be a good place to buy souvenirs. This TIC is open daily until 7.00pm.
Just before the start of Unter den Linden on the eastern side is the Pariser Platz; it's not unlike Covent Garden with its 'living statues' and buskers but here you also get actors in Soviet style uniforms willing to pose for a photograph, for a price of course. Having admired the gate and dropped into the TIC and the Room of Silence we didn't feel much like hanging around. When you've seen one living statue you've seen them all and they tend to give me the creeps anyway.
I was tempted by the museum dedicated to the Kennedys which is on the Pariser Platz but we hadn't long been in Berlin and were struck by hunger pangs. We never managed to get back to the Brandenburg Gate but the museum remains on my must see list for a future return to the city. Apart from the scenes when the wall fell, there are two episodes that have stuck in my memory about the Brandenburg Gate. One is Ronald Reagan's famous speech in which he urged Gorbachev to open the John F. Kennedy's visit to Berlin in which he gave his now infamous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. When Kennedy made that visit, the Soviets hung red flags from their side of the gate so that the American President and the attendant international press would not be able to see the eastern side.
Following extensive damage during the Second World War, the Pariser Platz, long regarded as the finest street or square of Berlin, was essentially a wasteland. Following reunification the Pariser Platz was rebuilt. The French and American Embassies were re-opened and other handsome buildings were restored. The Adlon Hotel which was partially destroyed during the war was rebuilt and subsequently extended. It is now owned by the Kempinski chain and is one of the finest hotels in the city.
Visiting the Brandenburg Gate is as essential to experiencing Berlin as stopping by Trafalgar Square is in London. The gate is undeniably impressive but I didn't get anything more from the experience than I might from seeing photographs of it. For me the most important thing was standing on the place where so much history has been made.
How to get there:
Nearest S-Bahn/U-Bahn station is Brandenburger Tor. (When the Wall was in place the U-Bahn line from West Berlin still passed under the wall close to the Brandenburg Gate but the stations in East Berlin were closed and became 'ghost stations'. Passengers could see these deserted platforms but the trains did not stop). This station was previously called Unter den Linden before the Wall.
Buses 100 and 200 pass close by the Brandenburg Gate and it will be obvious where to alight.
Summary: Berlin's famous landmark that symbolises both division and reunification