The Brandenburger Tor or Brandenburg Gate is one of the best known monuments of Germany. Dominating Pariser Platz (Parisian Square) in Berlin, this Neoclassical gateway is a symbol of Germany’s evolving history, from the emergence of the Prussian Empire as a European power to the country’s split in WWII and its later reunification.
King Frederick William II of Prussia commissioned Brandenburg Gate in 1788 to serve as the official entry point into the historic city of Berlin. The Gate’s architect, Carl Gotthard Langhans, following the 18th century trend of modeling new monuments on those of ancient Greece and Rome, decided to copy the Propylaea, the monumental gateway that acts as the entrance to the Acropolis of Athens. While both structures look strikingly similar with their five passageways framed by Doric columns and topped by a triangular pediment, the Brandenburg Gate reflects Prussia’s hierarchical structure rather than Athenian democratic ideals in that only the Prussian royal family was allowed to travel through the wide central portico.
Originally named the Peace Gate, the monument celebrated the return of peace following a series of wars that established Prussian power in Europe. The sandstone structure was topped with an enormous bronze statue of Eirene, the Greek goddess of peace, who carried a wreath on her scepter and drove a four-horse chariot known as a quadriga. A relief panel on the statue’s pedestal continued the theme by depicting the goddess surrounded by the personifications of virtues such as friendship and statesmanship, as well as symbols of the arts and sciences, which blossom in times of peace. Further down the facade, relief sculptures of the battle between the Lapiths and Centaurs and the labors of Hercules were also copied from the Propylaea and the Parthenon. For the ancient Greeks, these images of battle and victory were used as a political message to demonstrate the might of Athens after their unlikely defeat of the much larger Persian army at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE. For the people of Germany, the sculptures on the Brandenburg Gate suggested different things over time, including Prussian royal power, Prussian military victories, Nazi ideas of racial purity, separation, and reunification.
Since the construction of the Brandenburg Gate, it has been used as a backdrop for military parades and other acts of state and its symbolism has been constantly reinterpreted to reflect changing political ideals. In the 1930s, the Nazi government appropriated the Gate into their propaganda, associating it with a new identity of German power. After the end of World War II, the Gate was walled off entirely from both sides. It came to represent the divided nation, standing inaccessible in a no-man’s land for almost three decades. When the German people tore down the Berlin Wall in 1989, Brandenburg Gate became a symbol of unity after the West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, walked through it to meet the East German Prime Minister, Hans Modrow.
Today, Brandenburg Gate continues to represent German national pride, but also acts as a global symbol of peace. In preparation for the 25th anniversary of reunification, CyArk partnered with Iron Mountain, and the University of Stuttgart’s Institution of Photogrammetry, to digitally scan the Gate and its surroundings.