December 22: Repurposed Monument

2016/12/22 § Leave a comment


On this day in 1989 the Brandenburg Gate re-opened.

The gate was originally the ceremonial and functional entry to the most esteemed thoroughfare in Berlin.  Framing the start of Unter den Linden, which lead to the Prussian palace, the gate was built by Carl Gotthard Langhans for Frederick William II in the years around 1790.

As a modern propylaea, the Greek gate provided a proud and noble precedent for the threshold of thresholds.  The gate was built in a style–an enduring language of architecture–that provided maximum flexibility as rulers, dynasties, even states, came and went.  As the land changed hands, the gate was transformed by a number of different regimes.  Among them, Napoleon and Hitler both had their chance to use its universal Greek symbolism for their (albeit short-lived) reigns.  Even in these different hands it maintained its role as an opening, until the construction of the Berlin wall.  It became, then, a barrier, closed to all traffic in August 1961: the most beautiful element in a monument of formal and political ugliness.

With the shifting political fortunes of 1989 the gate attracted the focused attention of all those calling for the removal of the wall; it was their gathering point, their tocsin tower.  Upon its opening on December 22, the West German Chancellor walked through it to meet East Germany’s Prime Minister.  The horrid concrete wall was removed; the Greek gate was restored.  Neither barrier nor entry, it is now a conduit for the unified Germany.

Image: the day of the surge (from this source)

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