The Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most renowned landmarks. Over the last 200 plus years, it has endured several wars, invasions, and intense political changes. Since its construction, the Gate has connected Berlin to the world, and today it stands as a symbol of peace and unity.
Construction of the Brandenburg Gate – 1788
The Gate was commissioned by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm II to celebrate the era of tranquility following the Seven Years War and was erected between 1788 and 1791. It is the only surviving entrance to the Old Prussian capital, and the most majestic, as it opens toward the grand and exquisite boulevard Unter den Linden. On top of the Brandenburg Gate stands the famous Quadriga of Victory statue, which was erected two years later in 1793, as a symbol of the victorious Prussian armies.
Napoleon Conquers Berlin – 1806
In 1806, the Gate witnessed the military parade of Napoleon’s French troops; marching under the Gate and further along Unter den Linden towards the Prussian Royal Palace. After conquering the city Napoleon ordered the removal of the Quadriga. Until 1814 the dismantled statue was held in France before Prussian soldiers returned it to Berlin. The statue was reinstalled on top of the Brandenburg Gate and an iron cross was added to the statue, symbolizing Prussia’s victory over France. The cross was later removed by the Communist regime of the German Democratic Republic but reinstalled again in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Nazi Paramilitary Celebrates Hitler Being Named Chancellor – 1933
More than 100 years after Napoleon marched on Berlin, the Nazi paramilitary led a procession under the Brandenburg Gate and celebrated Hitler’s rise to power. It was only three months later (and not far from the Brandenburg Gate) when the infamous “books burning” was organized by Nazi authorities in the former Opernplatz (Opera Square). One hundred years before these tragic events, the great German poet Heinrich Heine wrote: “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.”
The Soviet Union Defeats Nazi Forces at the Battle of Berlin – 1945
In May 1945, the badly damaged Brandenburg Gate stood over a ruined Berlin. The triumphant Soviet army paraded down Unter den Linden and the Soviet red flag flew atop the Reichstag (today’s German Parliament). It was the end of World War II and the end of a regime that brought so much destruction and suffering to all of Europe, including Germany.
Construction of the Berlin Wall – 1961
After World War II, both West and East Berlin made an effort to restore the Brandenburg Gate. The project was suspended in 1961 by the construction of the Berlin Wall, which left the Gate stranded in the Soviet Sector (East Berlin).
Fall of the Berlin Wall – 1989
Eighteen years later, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, United States President Ronald Reagan addressed Mikhail Gorbachev – the Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party: “Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The Brandenburg Gate again witnessed history on November 9, 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, which marked the end of Berlin’s and Germany’s partition, and the end of the Cold War. A little over a month later, on December 22, 1989, the Brandenburg Gate was officially reopened as a gateway to crossing between West and East Berlin.
Global Citizenship – 21st Century
In 2002, the Brandenburg Gate was finally renovated, and today its scars from World War II and the Cold War are unnoticeable to the city’s many visitors. When originally commissioned by the King of Prussia, the Brandenburg Gate was meant to represent peace; now, after 200 years, the gate once again stands as a symbol for breaking down barriers and uniting citizens worldwide.
Editor’s note (2021): This piece has been updated for clarity, accuracy, and relevance.