"Mr Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" By the time US President Ronald Reagan uttered these words on June 12th 1987, the Brandenburg Gate had long since been established as a powerful symbol of the divided Berlin.
Completed in 1791, built by Carl Gotthard Langhans (who also designed the spire of the St. Marienkirche), the present gate replaced an earlier structure, which was originally one of the openings in the excise wall built around Berlin between 1734 and 1737, where an octroi (local tax) was levied on items entering the city. It gained its name, Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), from the fact that it stood on the road that led towards Brandenburg an der Havel. By the middle of the 1800s, the urban area had grown so much beyond the wall's boundaries that it became irrelevant. The new towns around the outside of the wall were incorporated into Berlin, new excise buildings were built on the roads leading into the enlarged city and, in 1870, the wall was demolished, along with many of the gates. The Brandenburg Gate is now the only one still standing.
Come August 13th 1961, it found itself on the site of another wall, only this time the gate didn't provide a way through to the other side.
Günter Bittner took this photo from the eastern side of the Berlin wall in its early days (I suspect around 1963), looking through the Brandenburg Gate towards the Tiergarten:
There was no crossing point here - indeed, the wall was particularly thick at this point, in case of any attempted attack by tanks. The area leading up to the gate on the eastern side was designated part of the border defences, so even walking up to the gate was impossible (which begs the inevitable question of how Günter Bittner might have taken this picture...).
If you look carefully on the left of the picture, you'll see the viewing platform, constructed so that western spectators could take a look over the wall into the east. What would they have seen? This tourist's photograph from the early 1980s will give a vague idea:
Obviously by the 1980s, both East Berlin and the wall itself had developed a fair bit. The picture highlights a change of circumstances in the west too, though. No longer were the tourists flocking to a viewing platform, but instead weren't even getting out of their coaches, left to take pictures through the windows instead. The ghostly reflection of one of the coach's passengers in the window stands as a reminder of this.
The coach visible in the picture has 'Sightseeing tours BEROLINA Stadtrundfahrten' (Berolina is the modern Latin name for Berlin) written on the side, so is obviously one used for taking tourists around the city, as opposed to one that's brought tourists in from out of town.
A cheeky peek between the Brandenburg Gate's columns gives us a view into East Berlin, and something to help date the picture:
Rising up behind the buildings is the almost complete dome of the Berliner Dom - minus its cross. This would place the picture as being taken shortly before the lantern and cross of the Berliner Dom were completed, dating it to, I suspect, summer 1981. This would be consistent with the date stamped on some of the slide mounts - June 1981. The dated ones are Kodachrome and this one is Agfachrome, but everything seems to add up to it being taken around the same time.
A picture of this side of the Brandenburg Gate from this period just wouldn't be complete without this, of course:
It's the "ACHTUNG Sie verlassen jetzt West-Berlin" sign! This wasn't just a cruel joke (it means 'CAUTION You are now leaving West Berlin') - by going any further in that direction, you really would have been leaving West Berlin, as the border extended a short distance beyond the wall on the western side.
The quadriga on top of the gate is worth a closer look too:
It was created by Johann Gottfried Schadow and shows Victoria, the winged goddess of victory. It was placed on the top of the gate in 1794, but taken to Paris by Napoleon in 1806 after his victory over Prussia in the battle of Jena-Auerstedt. After Napoleon's defeat at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, Prussian troops found the quadriga in Paris and brought it back to Berlin, where it was augmented by adding the wreath, iron cross and Prussian eagle to Victoria's staff. These additions link the gate to yet another important name on the Berlin architecture scene, because they were designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, architect of landmarks such as the Altes Museum and the Schauspielhaus on Gendarmenmarkt.
After World War II, when both the quadriga and the gate itself were heavily damaged, a new replica of the sculpture was created in 1957, as part of the restoration of the gate. Though the gate was in the Soviet sector, the restoration was a joint effort, and the quadriga was cast in West Berlin. The iron cross and the eagle were, however, deemed inappropriate symbols of Prussian militarism by the East Berlin authorities, so they were removed, as you can see from the picture (compare it to the one below).
You can just about make out something in the middle of the flag flying from the flagpole. This is, in fact, the hammer and compass emblem of the GDR - a West German flag would have been a plain black-red-gold tricolour flag (as used by present day Germany).
The quadriga was damaged by people climbing on top of the gate on new year's eve in 1989. The years had also taken their toll on in, so it underwent a full restoration in 1991, at which point the iron cross and eagle were replaced.
The gate itself underwent a further restoration between 2000 and 2002.