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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Brandebourg Gate: Berlin's Highlight

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

The Brandenburg Gate is a must-see for anyone visiting Berlin. The national symbol of Germany is both accessible and approachable.

The Brandenburg Gate is a highlight in Berlin

The 18th century was an era of Enlightenment, the affirmation of humanist and universalist concepts throughout Europe. This second Renaissance transformed Western societies, causing them to revise their relationship with the Arts and God by placing Man at the center of an unprecedented scheme from which European monarchs could hardly escape. The concept of the enlightened ruler emerged: the despot would no longer be a tyrant; he would be fair and work for the common good. This revival was characterized by a return to beauty in urban geography.

In Berlin, the Prussian kings, following in the footsteps of Frederick II, commissioned a monument at the city gates to sanctify the legacy of the Enlightenment: Beauty through a replica of the Propylaea in Athens, and Tolerance through the adoption of a gateway open to the outside world.

The Napoleonic conquest in 1806 disrupted this symbolism, and the monument then became a symbol of Prussian militarism in the 19th century. Damaged during the fighting in April 1945, the Brandenburg Gate was assigned to East Germany and became a prominent symbol of division between East and West. Since Reunification, it has emerged as the emblematic monument of the German nation.

A Monument of Tolerance Open to the Outside World

There are two approaches to the Brandenburg Gate: from Pariser Platz or from 17th of June Street, which runs through the Tiergarten. The first perspective takes you out of the built-up area, suddenly confronting you with a forest on both sides of the road and the Victory Column in the distance. Berlin is draped in green spaces. In the second view, conversely, the visitor encounters a wide, open space bustling with hundreds of people—tourists, onlookers, and school groups. The city then opens onto Unter den Linden, the central avenue of the former East Berlin.

The Brandenburg Gate is not imposing; its relatively low height makes it a human-scaled monument. This proximity is underscored by the fact that anyone can approach it and walk through it freely. On Pariser Platz, various institutions, notably banks, as well as the French and American embassies, display facades that range from tasteful to regrettable in their refined style, overshadowing the Gate and detracting from its prominence.

This improbable architectural discrepancy serves as a reminder that during the division, only the Gate was preserved. All the buildings that now surround it were built after Reunification, adhering to contemporary architectural codes and standards. Nevertheless, the symbol of the Brandenburg Gate remains intact and, although it was extensively renovated after the War and Reunification, the stonework is original.

A Symbol of German Reunification

Despite often justified criticism of the reconstruction work on Pariser Platz, a visit to the Brandenburg Gate is a must for any visitor to the city. Admittedly, the monument seems overwhelmed by its surroundings and a more "contemporary" alternative could have been preferred to buildings copying the old style without possessing authenticity.

However, the primary goal was to erase traces of the Berlin Wall that once enclosed the Gate within the border zone. In this respect, the objective was achieved in an impressively short period.

In the end, the mixture of different styles reflects the architecture of Reunification. A visit can be made at any time of the day, preferably in good weather. Ideally, one should visit very early in the morning to enjoy an entirely empty square, or in the early evening during the blue hour. A piece of advice: revisit it several times during your stay at different hours.

Reasons to Visit

  • An intimate national symbol

  • A disconcerting architectural ensemble

  • A must for photography enthusiasts

Reasons to Skip

  • Frequent presence of scaffolding breaks immersion

  • Accesses sometimes closed to the public

  • The presence of many pickpockets


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