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Monday, January 24, 2011

Berlin: History alive (part ii)

Walking on the streets of Berlin is walking through history itself. Although Berlin has quite recovered from its World War II wounds and contemporary life with its fashion, ambition and troubles has taken its natural priority in the lives of people there, yet a newcomer to the city can't but notice the scars and bruises here and there. Many of the impressive buildings were already rebuilt while many were still under construction.


A little History

Founded in the 12th century, Berlin is quite a new city by European standards. Yet, it has often been the center of German history. It became the capital of the German Empire in 1870, after the Unification of Germany following the French defeat in the Franco Prussian war.

As we walked through its busy streets, now and then hoping on a S-bahn or U-bahn, there was an inescapable thought that came to our mind again and again. What it might have been like to walk these streets in the Nazi era, the pre and post World War days!!

Berlin was never the center of the Nazi movement. However, when Hitler came to power in Jan 30, 1933 Berlin was the capital of Germany. At that time almost 160,000 Jews were living in Berlin which was 4% of the Berlin population and 1/3 rd of all German Jews. And this whole population was exterminated in the Holocaust that followed.

I sure don't remember where we went first and how I planned the trip through the city. But I remember the city, its buildings and streets and the impression it created on me and it is just as fresh today as if it was yesterday.

Brandenburger Tor

I remember standing in front of the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg gate) filled with awe and admiration. How many layers of history lay behind its plaster? This awe inspiring large gate is one of the main symbols of Berlin and Germany. We have seen it so many times in pictures and yet standing in front of it is an overwhelming experience.

Erected in the 1730s it was one of the 18 gates to enter the city. Between 1788 and'91, the old simple construction was replaced by the current construction. Its design was based on Propylaea, the gateway to Acropolis in Athens, Greece. There are 12 Doric columns and 5 passageways of which citizen were allowed to use only two. On the top is Quadriga, a chariot drawn by 4 horses driven by Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory.

In 1806, Napoleon took the Quadriga to Paris after defeating Prussia at the battle of Jena-Auerstedt.



In 1814, it returned to Berlin after Napoleon’s defeat. This time Victoria's wreath of oak leaves was supplemented with a new symbol of Prussian power, the Iron Cross.

In the Nazi era, it became a party symbol.

It miraculously survived the allied bombing in World War II.

There were holes made in the columns though, which were plastered and yet could be clearly recognized.

After the War was over and Berlin along with Germany was divided, it became the gate to enter East Berlin from the West.


In 1961, the Berlin wall was built just west of the gate and the checkpoint at the gate was closed.

When in 1989 the wall was broken Brandenburger Tor became the symbol of this reunification as Helmut Kohl passed through it to be greeted by the East German Prime Minister Hans Modro.




So there we stood steeped in history, and though our eyes were wondering at the present beauty of the columns, our minds were wandering through the past and marveling at this symbol of victory. The Germans didn't win the war. And yet the German people did win their war against all kinds of separatist forces and finally secured their freedom here just before this great symbol of Victory.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Pinkali. As I was reading, it almost felt like I was there. And I like the way you've connected your impressions with actual history.

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