The monumental sandstone structure of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin's Mitte district was modeled on the Acropolis of Athens and was built for King Frederick William II in 1788-91 by Carl Gotthard Langhans the Elder as a suitably magnificent terminal feature at the western end of Unter den Linden. The first Neo-Classical structure in Berlin, it is 26 m/85ft high (including the four-horse chariot), 65.5 m/215ft wide and 11 m/36ft deep.
There are six Doric columns on each side, forming five passages. The central passage, which is 5.65 m/18.5ft wide, was reserved for the carriages of the royal court; the four side passages, each 3.8 m/12.5ft wide, were used by ordinary traffic. Doric columns also decorate the two buildings at each side of the Gate, which provided accommodation for toll-collectors and for soldiers and officers on watch. On Aug. 16, 1791, in the absence of the king and without any special ceremony, the Brandenburg Gate was opened to the public. Between 1861-68 Johann Heinrich Strack built new passages between the main gate and the two gatehouses, and provided the latter with open columned halls. The figures of Mars and Minerva also changed places. The forecourt facing west was remodeled in 1903. During the Second World War the Gate suffered very serious damage, and the lengthy restoration work took until 1958 to complete.
Since the entry of the French troops in 1806 the magnificent Gate has been the scene of countless marches and parades. These include the triumphant marches by Prussian troops in 1864 when they returned from Denmark, in 1866 on the occasion of the campaign against Austria, and in 1871 when Prussia was victorious over the French and the German Empire was founded. At the start of the First World War the Berlin garrison passed ceremonially through the Brandenburg Gate, and on Jan 30, 1933 the storm troopers held a giant torchlight procession through the Gate to Wilhelmstrasse to celebrate Hitler's rise to power. Max Liebermann, who witnessed the scene from the window of his house, commented, "It makes me feel sick.'. Since the building of the Berlin Wall in August, 1961 the Brandenburg Gate became the symbol of the division of Berlin into East and West. A few weeks after the borders were re-opened on Nov. 9, 1989 the Gate was ceremoniously reopened on Dec. 22. Some nine months later, on Oct. 2, 1990, a great public celebration took place around the Brandenburg Gate to mark the unification of Germany and the reunification of Berlin.
The main decoration on the Brandenburg Gate was by the native Berliner Johann Gottfried Schadow (1764-1850), who also designed the Quadriga on the top of the Gate. It was made by the Potsdam coppersmith Jury, whose niece Ulrike modeled for the statue of Irene, Goddess of Peace and later Victoria, Goddess of Victory who - holding the symbols of victory - drives the four-horsed chariot. Following the French victory at the Battle of Jena and Auerstedt in 1806 Napoleon ordered the Quadriga to be taken down and carried off to Paris. After the Wars of Liberation and the defeat of the French at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig in 1813 von Blücher arranged for it to be returned to Berlin, where it was restored to its original place on Aug. 14, 1814, to the great delight of the Berliners. On the orders of the king, the Goddess of Peace received a new trophy - a garland of oak leaves surrounding the Iron Cross, crowned by the Prussian eagle - and was renamed Victoria. The first victory symbols were a helmet on a spear, a breast-plate and two shields. The imposing Quadriga was destroyed in the Second World War - the only fragment remaining was the head of one of the horses, which is now in the Märkisches Museum. With the aid of plaster models a new Quadriga was made and took the place of its predecessor in Sept. 1958. Shortly after, at the behest of the GDR authorities at the time, the Iron Cross and the Prussian Eagle were removed.
Before the Second World War the Pariser Platz was a very busy area reaching right up to the Gate, with a large number of buildings, such as Max Liebermann's house, the French and British embassies and the legendary Hotel Adlon. Between 1961 and 1989 it was sealed off, but is now once again open to the public. The latest plans are to rebuild the square on its original lines.