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Spruced-Up Berlin Gate Ready to Greet Germans for Unity Day

October 03, 2002|JEFFREY FLEISHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERLIN — The men in yellow slickers worked in the autumn rain, climbing on scaffolding, above stonemasons and architects, through the veiled columns and beneath the bronze chariot of this city's most enduring monument, where Michael Pauseback looked history in the eye and proclaimed:

"The gate is ready."

After two years of being scoured of grime and draped in tarps, the Brandenburg Gate will show its newly buffed face to the world today as Germany celebrates Unification Day. The tarps are scheduled to be dropped, and the gate--with a half-century of soot and grit burned away by tiny lasers--will reclaim its majesty on Unter den Linden boulevard.

"It's an honor to have worked on it," said Pauseback, manager of Caro Restoration and Technology Ltd., the company in charge of the multimillion-dollar privately funded cleaning project. "We slept every night with the responsibility of our work. In the back of your mind, you know this is a symbol. And now that we're turning it back over to the government, I have a feeling of emptiness, like one has sending a child into the world."

The Brandenburg Gate has belonged to the world's imagination as a symbol of division since the construction of the Berlin Wall at the height of the Cold War. The gate stood over a divided city and, like Checkpoint Charlie and nuclear warheads, defined the struggle between communism and democracy. Against its pocked, grizzled sandstone, President Kennedy proclaimed that he was a Berliner and President Reagan dared Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to "open this gate

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 05, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 9 inches; 332 words Type of Material: Correction
Kennedy speech--An Oct. 3 story in Section A said President Kennedy declared himself a Berliner at the Brandenburg Gate. Kennedy made that comment at West Berlin's City Hall.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, some of the most poignant images of freedom came as East Germans rushed through the gate's 12 Doric columns and into the West. The gate in recent times has been a backdrop for less lofty images, including tourist bus traffic and, until recently, drunken New Year's Eve parties and the decadent reveling of the Love Parade. And as much of the Berlin skyline glows with the glass, steel and sharp angles of a new millennium, the gate--built from 1788-91 for King Frederick William II--is a remnant of Old World architectural charm.

But it sure got dirty.

"Look how black it was," said Pauseback, pointing recently to a tiny square of grime that contrasted with the cleansed beige sandstone, mined generations ago from pits along the Elbe River. "Dust, smoke, a lot of it was biological. The rains and grit blowing from the west over the decades made the western side black."

Rain fell steadily as Pauseback, suffering from a cold, wrapped his polka-dot scarf and zipped his leather jacket. He retreated to a cafe in the shadow of the gate. He took paper and pen and drew diagrams, explaining that the restoration was a mixture of technological wizardry and historical sleuthing.

The gate's first major repairs and rebuffing were done in the mid-1950s, when many of its 18,000 nicks, scars and bullet holes from World War II were patched. There was, however, a hidden defect left behind. Examining photos taken decades ago by Josef Stalin's official photographer, Pauseback said, he detected damage to column three--probably caused by a mortar or tank shell--that had been glossed over with cement.

Gently chipping at the layer of cement, Pauseback said, his crew found that much of the column had been blown away. Only a 6-inch triangle of stone, he said, was left to support 320 tons, which included the quadriga-crowned neoclassical frieze of the Goddess of Victory, or, as she was originally conceived, the Goddess of Peace.

"We had to replace the damage with an 8-ton stone," Pauseback said. "Over the entire gate, we made 1,500 repairs."

Cleaning the sheen of dirt stuck to the porous columns was tedious work. Restorers used five lasers--costing $80,000 each--to remove about one square yard of filth a day. "It's a strong, strong light," said Pauseback, a former publisher and art gallery owner, referring to the lasers. "It's much like the technology in medical surgery. If the laser detects something black, it turns the grime to gas but doesn't damage or touch the stone."

The work was done behind tarps and shrouds that were turned into willowy billboards by the project sponsor, Deutsche Telekom. Pauseback's work on the last of Berlin's 14 original gates will be revealed this evening when former President Clinton and other guests will watch as a huge zipper opens, peeling away the coverings.

Rain turned to drizzle one day last week, and the team of restorers knelt down on scaffolding. Laborers laid cobblestones at the entrance of the gate. Around the corner, tourists lined up to enter the clear dome of the Reichstag building. The well-to-do waited for taxis in front of the remodeled Adlon Hotel, which was, along with the Brandenburg Gate and a handful of other haunts, part of the panorama for Berlin's jazzy nightlife in the years before the war.

Sipping his coffee, the man whose company restored the gate wondered whether new generations will value the emblems of the past. Much of Berlin's architectural splendor was obliterated in air raids, and the city today remains a place of reinvention, where more than two dozen long-armed cranes swing across the horizon and dust rises over the River Spree.

The new construction, said Pauseback, is "glass and steel. The soul is gone.... They're creating something just to fill in something that was destroyed."

The gate, he said, is one of the few symbols left. "I'm not sure people of this century will be willing to accept symbols. Every day, values are disappearing, symbols become less important. This century lives for losing values and symbols, not for building them.... I still believe in them, though."

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