Standing at 20 metres (66. ft) high and 65 metres (213 ft.) wide, Brandenburg Gate is one of Germany’s most iconic landmarks. It’s sandwiched between the Haus Lierbermnn and Haus Sommer, both built in the late 1990s by Josef Paul Kleihues to replace the pavilions destroyed during World War Two. You’ll have seen the gate countless times on everything from TV to billboards and it’s the location for some of the city’s most famous events – NYE fireworks, protests and festivals included. But how much do you know about this celebrated Neo-classical landmark? Test your knowledge with these interesting facts about Brandenburg Gate.
Interesting Facts About Brandenburg Gate
1. There wasn’t a political motive for building it
King Friedrich Willhelm II commissioned the gate to mark the end of the Unter den Linden boulevard, which led to the Prussian palace. The gate replaced a smaller guarded city gate that marked the beginning of the road from Berlin to Brandenburg an der Havel. It officially opened on August 6th 1791. It was originally called ‘Peace Gate’ or Friedenstor, but the title didn’t really catch on.
2. But it’s always been symbolic
For King Friedrich built the gate, it symbolized peace. In the twentieth century, in the years leading up to World War II it became a party symbol, hosting large-scale propaganda events that tightened Nazi control over Germany. Then, in the decades following the war, it became another symbol of the great divide between the great capital city. In 1945, authorities added the Soviet Flag to the gate but eventually replaced it with the East German flag in 1957.
In 1961, steps from the Brandenberg Gate, Kennedy made his “I am a Berliner Speech”, which translated as “I am a jelly doughnut”. Fast forward to when the wall came down, in 1986, it became a symbol of unified Germany. The East German Premier Hans Modro and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl reopened the site, marked with a celebration attended by over 100,000 people.
3. There was once 18 of them
During the thirty years war, over 100 years before the gate’s construction, Berlin was a small walled city within a bastion fort. There were originally several gates providing access to the city. As its status as the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia grew, the city spilt out into the fort, so the Berlin Customs Wall was erected. This featured 18 gates, all erected in the 1730s. Brandenburg Gate is the only one still standing.
4. It closed for almost three decades
The gate had survived World War II, but only just. Holes punctuated the columns and only one horse’s head from the quadriga survived. You can see the original horse’s head in the Märkisches Museum. The Brandenburg Gate then closed in 1961, when the Berlin Wall first divided East Berlin and West Berlin. It re-opened in 1989, almost three decades later. After extensive and expensive (€6 million) renovations from 2000 to 2002, the gate re-opened to celebrated the 12th anniversary of German reunification.
5. You can’t travel through all of the passages
The gate is made up of twelve Doric columns, six on either side, to form five passageways. You won’t be allowed through the widest, central passage though – it’s reserved for royals. Originally, citizens were only allowed to use the outermost passages. The adjacent passages were restricted to members of the aristocracy.
6. Napoleon was the first person to use it for a procession
After Napoleon defeated the Prussians in 1806 at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, he proudly rode through the gate on a triumphal procession. He took the Quadriga to Paris but returned it after defeat in 1814. Karl Friedrich Schinkel redesigned the Quadriga as a Prussian triumphal arch, depicting the goddess of victory on a chariot pulled by four happy horses.
7. It’s very greek
Carl Gotthard Langhans designed Brandenburg Gate. It was Berlin’s first Greek revival building, based on the Propylaea, the gateway to the Acropolis in Athens. It originally featured similar Doric columns, a capped pediment and adjoining temples. The original quadriga depicted Eirene, goddess of peace, and showed her holding a sceptre and a wreath of olive leaves. The panels below depict the goddess Eirene surrounded by personifications of friendship, joy and hospitality. The sculpture panels and medallions on the five passageway walls depict Hercules struggles. In the 18th century, rather than representing Athenian victory over the Persians, they represented Prussian royal strength and persistence.