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  • Tommaso Speccher

The Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate is certainly one of the most photographed, reproduced and branded places in contemporary Berlin. Anyone who sees the Brandenburg Gate is instinctively led to think of that fateful day, 9th November 1989, when thousands of West Berliners began to climb over the Wall right in front of it. Less well known, but equally emblematic, is the fact that hardly any East Berliners were present, as in the East the area around the Gate was basically unreachable and practically depopulated.

A few years earlier, in 1987, Ronald Reagan had given his speech right there in front, using the famous phrase: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!". It would later be Kohl who would pass under the neoclassical colonnades of the gate, even together with Pope Wojtyla. In short, the 20th century compacted and boxed, ready for symbolic use and reuse.

That gate, in any case, tells us something more about the history of our beloved city. First of all, with its year of inauguration, 1791, which was the phase of definition and settlement of that 'German spirit' that is often on the lips of so many and which finds precisely in the neoclassical gateway built by architect Carl Gotthard Langhans one of its most striking definitions.


Based on the model of the monumental entrance to the Acropolis in Athens, the architect decided to give form to the new philosophical spirit that wandered through the German courts, which was indeed marked by a return to the classical natural order (i.e. the search for harmony between the natural, human and divine levels) but first and foremost by the much more social and political urgency to think of an harmonious space and order for the citizen. 

Those gates, which in many cities had for decades determined the control of duties and toll booths (in Berlin there were 18 in total), now became symbolic passages, indicating an entry into the city life and political discourse. Of course, all heavily seasoned with the motifs of war, conflict and Great Prussia, marked by the goddess of Victory in action on the quadriga of Roman memory at the top of the pediment, but maintaining at its centre the idea of a certain superiority and elevation of city life. We could therefore understand it as an access to modernity and public discourse.

But perhaps it is precisely this prerogative of being the world's best-known gateway that translates it into a 'symbol of public and civil discourse' as the 'measure of the modern citizen', and that marks its crisis and failure. Before the contrasts of the Cold War, in fact, it was the triumphal march of the SA in 1933 that told us of the dangers of victorious celebration and exaltation of human destinies. Nazism, the Cold War, the division of Germany... these have been the references connected to this place in the decades to the present day.

But perhaps this is precisely the challenge of all these laborious commemorations: to constantly mark the passage to a new world, to new hopes, marked indeed by the paradoxes of contemporaneity but still faithful to the idea of that passage to a better and more civilized city life.


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