Dr Julien Drouart
Brandebourg Gate: Berlin's must-see monument
Updated: Jan 11, 2022
The Brandenburg Gate is a must-see for anyone visiting Berlin. The German national symbol is both convenient and intimate.
The Brandenburg Gate is a highlight in Berlin.
The 18th century was the century of the Enlightenment, the affirmation of humanist and universalist concepts throughout Europe.This second Renaissance transformed Western societies, leading them to revise their relationship with the Arts and God by placing Man at the centre of an unprecedented scheme from which European monarchs could hardly escape. The concept of the enlightened ruler appeared: the despot would no longer be a tyrant, he would be just and would work for the common good. This revival was marked by a return of beauty to urban geography.
In Berlin, the Prussian kings followed in the footsteps of Frederick II and commissioned a monument at the city gates to sacralise 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 upset the symbolism and the monument then became the symbol of Prussian militarism in the 19th century. Damaged during the fighting in April 1945, the Brandenburg Gate was returned to East Germany and became a prominent symbol of the division between East and West. Since Reunification, it has become the emblematic monument of the German nation.
A monument of tolerance open to the outside world
There are two ways to get through the Brandenburg Gate: from the Pariser Platz or from the 17th of June Street, which runs through the Tiergarten. The first perspective takes you out of the built-up area and suddenly you are facing a forest on both sides of the road with the Victory Column in the distance. Berlin is covered in green areas. In the second view, on the contrary, the visitor is presented with an open, wide space, teeming with hundreds of people, tourists, onlookers and school groups. The city then opens up onto Unter den Linden, the central avenue of the former East Berlin.
The Brandenburg Gate is not imposing and its relative low height makes it a human-sized monument. This proximity is reinforced by the fact that anyone can approach it and walk through it freely. On the Pariser Platz, various institutions, notably banks, as well as the French and American embassies, display façades that are sometimes fair and sometimes regrettable in their refined style, overwhelming the Gate and not enhancing it.
This improbable architectural discrepancy will remind us that at the time of the division, only the Gate was preserved and that all the buildings that surround it now were built after the Reunification, with 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 remains original.
A symbol of German reunification
Despite the often legitimate criticism of the reconstruction work on the Place de Paris, a visit to the Brandenburg Gate is a must for any visitor to the city. Admittedly, the monument seems to be overwhelmed in its dimensions and a more "contemporary" alternative could have been preferred to buildings copying the old style without having the authenticity.
Nevertheless, the primary ambition was to erase the traces of the Berlin Wall that enclosed the Gate on the border zone. In this respect, the objective was achieved in an extremely short time.
In the end, the combination of different styles reflects the architecture of the 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 a completely empty square or in the early evening at the blue hour. A piece of advice: you should see it several times during your stay at different times.
Reasons to go
An intimate national symbol
A disconcerting architectural ensemble
A must for photography enthusiasts
Reasons to avoid
The frequent presence of scaffolding breaks the immersion
Accesses sometimes closed to the public
The presence of many pickpockets