History Makes The Monument

 I disliked this monument… but the history, incredible!

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Firstly, there needs to be some context to my dislike. The first week in April 2014, twenty-five students from Bangor University and myself boarded a coach at 11pm to travel overnight to London. I sat at the front due to my persistent travel sickness, and if you need to know one thing about me is that I “need lots of sleep to function!”. Unfortunately the journey was like driving with the chuckle brothers, the coach got lost (despite both drivers having smart phones and a sat-nav), smashed the door trying to turn in a 10150705_728669837184168_2788662522031728455_n (1)space far too small and at one point stopped in the middle of the road thinking a yellow sign was a speed camera?!?!  As I had GPS on my phone, was awake and couldn’t believe how these guys even had driving licences let alone made it to Bangor in the first place, I gave directions. Our flight to Krakow was at 7am which equaled one very tired Charlotte. If you get the chance to go to Krakow, go! It is an incredible city, beautiful and cultural, small and sweet, inexpensive and friendly, try a Zapiekanki and their fantastic concoctions masquerading as cocktails. Cut to three days later, I was still slightly tired and boarding another overnight coach from Krakow to Berlin…. this time managing a dismal 3-4 hours sleep, interrupted by a police passport check. So 8am, arriving in Berlin and I was shattered and grumpy. But no time to snooze, we had 24 hours before boarding a plane back to the UK.

Nuremberg Rally

Nuremberg Rally


Do you not think this building looks every inch famous, important… monumental???

One anecdote you may enjoy, really shows how tired I was. Driving into Berlin, I opened my eyes in time to spot this building, a crescent-shaped building with columns and a big green open space stretching forward. I swore I recognized it, it looked like a monument, something from Nazi Germany, I could picture the open space filled with soldiers and swastika banners upon the building… think Nuremberg Rally and you get the picture. I swore this was a famous building, I even saw it driving out of Berlin towards the airport, but everyone was asleep so I couldn’t ask what it was. Searching Google for famous Nazi buildings remaining in Berlin was of no fruition either. It was famous, I was adamant. I get home and tell my parents who help me search and look on a map to find this historic building which I recognised. Much to my parents amusement, this building was Tempelhof Airport


View from the Reichstag

 Anyway, I wanted to make sure I saw the 4 most famous landmarks in Berlin, Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag (which is a beautiful building, I so wished I could go inside), Check Point Charlie where I got several photos with some posing soldiers, and the Berlin Wall. The manhole covers almost act as a check list. We caught the U-Bahn to Brandenburger Tor and walked up the steps bringing you 50 yards in front of the Brandenburg Tor. Maybe I have been spoilt, living in Vienna or England but I found the structure lacking. It didn’t have that wow factor I hoped for and in my opinion did not have much architectural intricacy, it was very simplistic and uniform in structure, nor was it particularly grand in size. I think the size was my biggest disappointment, it did not seem at all tall or spectacular. Although, when I think about it, the size actually typifies Berlin architecture throughout history, classicism but modest in scale. It seemed shrouded by nearby buildings and even the trees obscure the Gate when walking through Großer Tiergarten to the Victory Column.

A monument to the old city wall, made from excavated stones.

The one impressive feature of the Brandenburg Tor, that no body can take away from it, is it’s survival of history. Commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia, as a sign of peace, built by Carl Gotthard Langhans from 1788 to 1791. Standing at the western end of Unter den Lindenit it was a passageway to the Prussian Palace. Berlin at the time was a small walled city, the wall was more of a palisade, made of wood, clearly not for defense purposes but for the levying of taxes, the original wall had 14 city gates, with blockades placed in the River Spree.  As the city grew between 1786 and 1802 the walls were extended and built in stone, the gates were increased due to traffic and in a more imposing style. The most notable gate, and the only remaining gate is of course Brandenburg Gate. Citizens originally were allowed to use only the outermost two passageways on each side, the middle passageway was reserved for royalty only.

1545729_730262637024888_2108607016319818196_nThe Gate is built in sandstone consists of twelve Doric columns, six to each side, forming five passageways, it is 65 ft high, 213 ft wide and 36 ft thick. The columns are decorated mainly with reliefs and sculptures, the majority of them based on the exploits of Heracles.  Atop the gate is the Quadriga, sculpted by Johann Gottfried Schadow, featuring the goddess is Eirene; the goddess of peace, on a chariot drawn by four horses. It was originally named the Peace Gate (German: Friedenstor). The gate’s design is based upon the Propylaea, the gateway to the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, and just like the Propylaea led to a shrine of the Ancient world, the Brandenburg Gate was meant to lead to the most important city of Prussia. It is consistent with Berlin’s history of architectural classicism (first, Baroque, and then neo-Palladian) and it inspired the nickname “Athens on the River Spree“. 


Charles Meynier’s painting of Napoleon’s army marching victoriously through the Brandenburg Gate after the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in 1806.

The Quadriga has an interesting history. Firstly when Napoleon invaded Berlin, he must have appreciated the statue because  he ordered the Quadriga to be dismantled and shipped back to Paris. The horse and goddess were hastily packed up in crates and moved across the continent. Napoleon, preoccupied with the crumbling of his recently established empire, appears to have forgotten about the statue, and it languished in storage until 1814, when Paris itself was captured by Prussian soldiers following Napoleon’s defeat. The Quadriga returned to Berlin and installed once again atop the Brandenburg Gate, with one change: an iron cross was added to the statue, as a symbol of Prussia’s military victory over France. 


Army photographer Yevgeny Khaldei (center) with Soviet forces, in May of 1945, stood in front of the damaged Brandenburg Gate.

Hitler driving though Brandenburg Tor on the Opening Ceremony of the 1936 Olympics

Hitler driving though Brandenburg Tor on the Opening Ceremony of the 1936 Olympics

Hitler also used the gate as a monument of Nazi power and in 1942 when bombs were falling he decided not to remove the statue  for risk of reducing moral, but instead made plaster casts of the statue, which allowed for repairs to be carried out after the war. By 1945 the Soviets placed their flag on top of the Gate stating their claim but only fragments remained of the Quadriga. It is surprising that the Brandenburg Gate was one of only a handful of buildings still standing in Berlin after WWII. (Today the two buildings that stand either side: Haus Liebermann and Haus Sommer, were built in the late 1990s during the restoration by architect Josef Paul Kleihues.)

During the Cold War, the Soviets decided to keep the gate and incorporate into their city, it became part of the wall, 800px-Brandenburg_Gate_Quadriga_at_Nightisolated and inaccessible in no-mans land. The East did eventually decide to restore the gate and statue, unfortunately it proved difficult, the plaster casts were in the west, the gate in the East, and the politicians busy denouncing the other side as usurpers and criminals. However there is only one Brandenburg Tor… which meant sharing. It proved a rare opportunity for cooperation between the sides, the statue was recast in the West, dragged into the no man’s land of the Berlin Wall and left there so that the Easterners could heft it back on top. However the Berlin, Brandenburger Tor mit Berliner MauerIron Cross that was added, was removed as it was proclaimed a “fascist ornament” by the communists, this upset the west Berliners who saw it as an act of vandalism and deceit. (The cross was only replaced in 1990 when the statue was dismantled for restoration during the unification of Germany.) One big question is did the Quadriga face East or West? There are many theories that the Quadriga originally faced east and was turned round in the re-positioning of the statue in 1814. Others are adamant that the statue was originally facing west and was turned to face east during Soviet occupation, the direction of Moscow, and propaganda for the Easterners, believing this was the true city, that West German could not be victorious over them, it was also another opportunity to torment the West with.

Fall of the Berlin Wall 1989

Fall of the Berlin Wall 1989

It served as the backdrop for many speeches, in 1963, John F. Kennedy visited the Brandenburg Gate, but the Soviets hung large red banners across it to prevent him looking into East Berlin. It was also the site of Ronald Reagan’s famous speech in 1987 which he entreated the Soviet leader, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The gate was reopened on December 22, 1989, in the course of the reunification of East and West Berlin, when West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl walked through it to meet East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow. On 2nd/3rd October 1990, the Gate was the scene of the official ceremony to mark the reunification of Germany, at the stroke of midnight, the black-red-gold flag of West Germany (now the flag of a reunified Germany) was raised over the Gate. It then underwent vigorous restoration beginning in late 2000 and officially reopened in 2002, though it remains closed to vehicle traffic. There is also a Raum der Stille (room of silence) located within the Brandenburg Gate which reflects the original symbol of peace, a room for reflection on the history of this monumental gate.

The Brandenburg Gate has symbolised many things to the Berliners… first peace, then victory, the resilience of WWII, division and the ideological conflict of politics, freedom, a united city and united loved-ones. Today I think all those meanings still stand, it is not just a landmark of the capital, and modern Germany, but of unifying ideas, and freedom in the modern world. (That doesn’t change the fact that I don’t like the structure though.)

Bangenburg Gate at the Festival of Lights 2010

Brandenburg Gate at the Festival of Lights 2010

I have to go back to Berlin, I need to explore the city  (when I am not tired). Spend time wandering around, visit the museums and the landmarks again, maybe then my opinion shall alter. 

Bangor Pier!

When I first think of Bangor Pier, the first word that comes to mind is cute!


I attend Bangor University and before that, when I was researching universities, I had no idea Bangor even existed let alone any knowledge of the place, so I turned up to Pier tea roomsthe University open day not knowing what to expect, and what I found I was pleasantly surprised with. Wandering around the town we found a sign saying “Pier” so decided to explore, on that first visit it was a glorious day, sunshine and sparking waves on the Menai Straits, rambling down the wooden planks with the waves lapping beneath, admiring the Snowdonian National Park in the background and Anglesey in front. At the end of the pier there is a small tea room, selling scones and a warm cuppa…. something you need when facing the more usual crosswinds. It is a place I have visited a few times whilst at uni but Sea off Piersomething I found out recently is that it is actually called Garth Pier. It is a charming place to think, relax and enjoy the view, you often see children crab fishing or you can have a pancake from one of the little polygonal kiosks with curved pointed roofs that glisten in the sun. The last time I was wandering on the pier, it seemed a lovely day but then I had to run quickly back to the gate as I got caught in a sudden hail storm, ice went into my coat, down my boots and my hair was dripping… not a particularly becoming look.

Sweeney ToddIt really is a quaint Victorian structure, a traditional promenade leisure pier standing 1,500ft into the brisk waters of the Straits and designed by J. J. Webster of London. It was opened in 1896 by Lord Penrhyn, you can almost imagine the sweeping skirts of the Victorian dresses, and the excitement of that opening day, “rosy cheeks and bright eyes abounded and all faces were smiling whether under acre-brimmed hats or piquante little bonnets” like they were on a seaside holiday. That evening there was even a ball to celebrate. To be fair all you have to think of is Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Johnny Depp, with his dashing widow’s peak and Helena Bonham Carter in her eccentric outfits, “by the sea, Mr. Todd, that’s the life I covet“… although that was filmed on Brighton Pier.

Old photo of Bangor Pier, the date is unknown but suspected to be the open day.

Old photo of Bangor Pier, the date is unknown but suspected to be the open day.

When the pier was first proposed there seems to be arguments concerning the “Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen” of Bangor as to where the pier should be built but also a difference of opinion on the practicality of the pier. However the most pressing matter of this document is that Mayoh Bros. of Manchester, were commissioned to draw up the plans for Garth Pier, however previous to this they were engaged to do other work for the council, “for which they had not been paid“.

The pier is constructed largely in steel, with cast iron columns and screw piles, with wooden planks to form the deck, however it also featured street lighting in the form of ornamental lamps and handrails. The total cost to build the pier came in at £14,475.

Old Photo, taken from Anglesey, date unknown.

Old Photo, taken from Anglesey, date unknown.

Further to the promenade pier, when it was first built there was a pontoon landing stage at the far end, just past where the tea rooms are today, the steps down to the sea are still in place. It once used to dock pleasure steamers for a gentle cruise around Anglesey, but also go to and from the Isle of Man or Liverpool. In 1914 SS Christiana, a cargo steamer was docked at the pontoon overnight, yet broke free. It caused considerable damage to the neck of the pier and a gap in the pontoon, this was temporarily fixed by the Royal Engineers which remained in place until 1921 due to World War One. By the time permanent repairs could be made more damage had occurred and took over 4 months to fix instead of the original 4 weeks.  Furthermore to the pontoon, there was also a 3ft gauge railway running the length of the pier to help with the loading and baggage from the steamers, yet this was removed in 1914, whether through damage, expense or even needing the metal for ammunition…

Bangor Re-opening

The Souvenir Programme, 1988

Sea bed picture of pier

Image taken from the sea bed at the time of restoration.

In 1971 the pier closed due to safety concerns and was under threat of demolition, but Bangor City Council opposed, claiming it was “one of the three finest surviving piers in Great Britain” and purchased the Pier for 1p. They obtained a grade II listing on the structure and appealed for funding, as it was estimated at £50,000 to restore this treasure. Renovation started in 1982 with financial help given from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Welsh Office and Manpower Services Commission.  The restoration took a long time, mainly due to harsh weather in the winters and took 5 years to complete, it was reopened to the public in  1988.

Bangor Pier

Pier benchesWhen you walk down the pier there are  the wooden benches along the way but also iron benches built into the pier structure. Most are dedicated to people in memorial. I remember seeing a picture placed on one of the benches of a bride and groom who jumped off the pier still in her wedding dress.

Myself on the pier

Myself on the pier

When you visit there is a 50p honesty box to help with the up-keep of this treasure, I always pay, it’s one of the quaint things about the pier and I would  hate to see this structure demolished. If you visit the pier gates are open till 9pm in the summer, you could try your hand at crab fishing, one of the kiosks sells the equipment or just have a stroll with an ice-cream. As you amble down it really does make you smile.

Pier Gates