The Berlin Quadriga

The Brandenburg Gate is a famous entry gate located in the center of Berlin. The gate is one of the most important landmarks of Berlin and German history. At the top of the gate is the Quadriga. It depicts a chariot with four horses being led by the goddess of victory, Nike.

The story of the Berlin Quadriga begins in 1793 when the Brandenburg Gate was built as a symbol of peace by Prussian King Frederick William II. The first Quadriga on the Brandenburg Gate placed there after the Gate was constructed was of a thin copper sheet that was worked on a wooden model and mounted on an iron frame. The figures of the goddess and the horses were hammered by two Potsdam copper smiths, Köhler for the goddess and Jury for the horses. The originally intended gilding was omitted due to cost reasons.

It was designed by the sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow. Schadow had originally made the charioteer Eirene also known as Pax in Roman mythology, is the goddess of peace. Her body was only draped with a chiton, a type of undergarment commonly worn in ancient Greece. The Berliners did not like her ‘nude’ appearance. Therefore, later she was given a long gown, a lance with a Roman laurel wreath and a Roman eagle at the tip.

A couple of years later, the Quadriga was taken by Napoleon Bonaparte as a war trophy after he defeated Prussian forces in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in 1806. The dismantling was entrusted to the Potsdam copper smith Jury, who had once crafted the copper horses of the Quadriga. Packed in twelve crates, the heavily damaged loot reached Paris in May 1807. Due to Napoleon’s downfall, the sculpture was never permanently installed in Paris. In 1814, after the occupation of Paris by the Prussian army, the Quadriga was discovered in the Tuileries, a Parisian city palace, and in 1814, it was brought back to Berlin in an elaborate and weeks-long transport. The laurel wreath however, along with the eagle and spear remained unfound. The sculpture was that damaged that it had to be restored. The restoration works had been performed by the German sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow. By restoring it he did some important changes. The return of the Quadriga to Berlin had Prussian-political significance. The ensemble should become more Prussian. The laurel wreath was replaced with a larger oak wreath. In the center of the wreath, the iron cross was placed, and on top of the wreath, the Prussian eagle with outstretched wings, a bird of prey. The Goddess changed to Nike. Nike, also known as Victoria in Roman mythology, is the goddess of victory. Schadow’s restoration work was completed in 1815, and the Quadriga was placed back on top of the Brandenburg Gate. This time, the sculpture faced east, towards the city center, rather than west, towards the royal palace.

Once again, the Quadriga was damaged during the riots in 2019/2020. For seven years before it finally was restored, rain and snow had seeped into the interior through bullet holes. The corroded iron support structures had to be replaced with bronze ones.

During the World War II, plaster casts of the original horses and the goddess had been taken in 1942 by the Nazis as a precaution. Due to time constraints, the chariot and the standards were not cast at the time. In the final days of World War II, the Brandenburg Gate, along with the Quadriga, was deliberately targeted and heavily damaged by the Allies. The Victoria and her symbols of victory were completely melted away, while the chariot and two horses were torn into small pieces. Badly damaged, the Quadriga was dismantled and largely melted down in 1950. The only original part that has been preserved is the head of the left outer horse. It was discovered in the rubble of the Berlin Zoo and is today kept in the collection of the Maerkisches Museum.

The sculpture was reconstructed in 1958 in copper based on casts made during the war. The new Quadriga was crafted by the foundry Hermann Noack located in Steglitz. By the reconstruction the militaristic symbols had been removed. The iron cross and the Prussian eagle were missing from the tip of the lance. The Quadriga was returned to its original meaning as a symbol of peace.

The current Quadriga is that of 1958. It was installed on the Brandenburg Gate in 1991 after undergoing restoration work. On the New Year’s Eve 1989/90, numerous people celebrated on the Brandenburg Gate to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. Many of them climbed onto the gate and damaged the Quadriga. The sculpture was affected by fireworks and bottles. The Quadriga was taken to the workshops of the Berlin Monument Conservation Office for extensive restoration work. During the restoration, the goddess was given back her missing symbols: the Prussian eagle and the iron cross.

After the original 18th-century Quadriga and its 20th-century copper replica were both made from copper sheet, a third Quadriga is now set to be created in Berlin, this time made of plaster. The reconstruction is based on plaster casts used to create the copper replica of the original Quadriga in the 1950s. The original negative molds, which were taken during the war, have since been lost. The positive casts, on the other hand, have been stored in various Berlin depots over the years and are now being brought together in an open workshop at the Berlin Wall Memorial in the German Bundestag.

The Berlin Quadriga