Ever since the Brandenburg Gate was built it has become a symbol of the city.
It was constructed as a symbol of peace – but then became a Prussian symbol, a Nazi symbol, and then a symbol of the division between East and West. Since reunification it has once again become a symbol of peace, and so I can’t think of a more fitting place to start a tour of Berlin.
It was constructed between 1781 and 1791 for the Prussian monarchy that lived in the Crown Prince’s Palace in Unter den Linden. Designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans the arch was modelled on the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens and topped by the Quadriga designed by Johann Gottfried Schadow.
In 1806 Napoleon defeated the European coalition which included Prussia and on entering Berlin he took the Quadriga back home to Paris as a souvenir.
After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 it was returned to the Brandenburg Gate and was declared a symbol of victory, and as if to reinforce the point, the Prussian eagle and iron cross inside a laurel wreath was added to the Goddess of Victory’s staff.
During WWII it suffered considerable damage, and in the aftermath, it fell inside the Soviet sector who flew the Russian flag over it until 1957. The partioning of Berlin led to the GDR rebuilding the Quadriga without its Prussian iron cross, which to them represented Prussian and German militarism.
The building of the Berlin Wall made the Brandenburg Gate a focal point. It fell just inside the eastern sector, and although access was off limits to East Berliners, it became a great political platform for western politicians to put pressure on their counterparts on the other side of the wall.
JFK came here in 1963, but his view of the gate was obscured by large red banners, and in June 1987 Ronald Reagan came here and famously said “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall” – and two years later it was down.
Even our own British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was emotional when she came here.
The “Iron Lady”, as she was called, was, like the rest of us, able to see the ‘Iron Cross’ reinstalled back up on to the Quadriga when the ‘Iron Curtain’ finally came down.
‘Iron’ seems such a harsh word, and, even though I know it won’t happen, I think it would be much nicer if the Quadriga was also topped with a ‘Dove of Peace’ To me that would be the best symbol of all.