This is the Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin. The first time I saw it, in 1974, there was a wall built right through it.
Here's a photo of it then, from the Hotel Adlon website. The hotel stood, from 1907 to 1945, when it was decimated by a fire, just to the left of the Gate. It was the stopping place for world leaders and socialites and was rebuilt shortly after the Wall fell.
Because Berlin has such a dramatic history, it was always exciting to be there -- maybe more so while the wall remained.
I remember especially coming through Checkpoint Charlie (that's it on the left) on a dark fall day (Americans were allowed to visit for the day after going through this scary border station and having cars and packages searched) and, as we approached the Gate, seeing an old man standing, looking over into the West. In his hands, clasped behind his back, was a rosary. Not so popular in communist East Berlin. I recall thinking immediately "Oh. His daughter is getting married in the West today and he can't go, and he's standing there, thinking about her, praying for her." Berlin in those times lent itself to imagining such things. The drama was palpable.
The first time we went to Berlin after the wall fell, I remember, it was pouring. Oblivious to the weather, we walked back and forth beneath the lovely arches in the now-open gate, kind of giddy at what it meant to the people of Berlin and all those who care about freedom and, I guess, redemption. For despite what happened in Berlin during the war (and we've studied it extensively and spoken both with survivors and those involved in the rebuilding of the Jewish community) the Wall caused immeasurable suffering and was a diabolical slash through the heart of the city and every one of its people.
I've written about Berlin before: from its playgrounds to its grim Communist years. We go there often. It seems to pull us back, its intellectual energy and re-emerging Jewish community irresistible. Once, when we'd taken our kids there while the Wall remained, one son, around 5, bought a stuffed wool pig and told everyone he "got it out of jail."
Here's one last photo - of two buildings: one redone and the other still old and rickety, in the very cool neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg, which is in the old "East Berlin" and now, last I heard, had the highest childbirth rate in Germany and was home to artists, writers, musicians and fashionably cool people who don't have to work. What you see stands for it all: the struggle to renew, still only partly complete.