Ber­lin Wall pieces find new homes


Sit­ting in dresser draw­ers, mem­o­ra­bilia boxes and rest­ing on man­tles and shelves, are pieces of the Ber­lin Wall.

Small ones, mind you. Some are of du­bi­ous ori­gin, but many are le­git.

Else­where, proper, fully formed chunks stand as me­men­tos to the struc­ture that, from 1961 to 1989, di­vided Ber­lin — the pre-em­i­nent sym­bol of the east-west di­vide dur­ing the Cold War.

Twenty-seven miles long and 12 feet high, it has been 30 years since the wall di­vid­ing East and West Ber­lin came down, torn apart by re­unit­ing Ber­lin­ers as con­vul­sions in the Soviet Union slowly rat­tled the eastern bloc. The pieces have made it all around the world, torn off the wall as tro­phies, chipped away and pock­eted by tourists and sold by hawk­ers and traders in gift shops and on­line.

Even now, you can pe­ruse Ki­jiji to find pieces for sale in Canada (for $19, Ted from Markham will sell you his chunk of his­tory). Pieces of the wall are far from un­com­mon; in the weeks af­ter the wall came down, you could ar­rive in Ber­lin to find peo­ple rent­ing out ham­mers and chis­els to take your very own chunk.

One such per­son was Alex Munter, the pres­i­dent and CEO of the Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal of Eastern On­tario in Ot­tawa, who had seen the wall while it was still stand­ing in 1986. “I re­mem­ber it feel­ing like the most per­ma­nent, im­per­me­able struc­ture I had ever seen or ex­pe­ri­enced,” he said.

Still, he flew to Ber­lin, to see it com­ing down for him­self, and got on his plane home with a bag full of rocks. “It was a sim­pler time, you wouldn’t be able to do that to­day.”

“If you had told me in 1986 that that wall was go­ing to come tum­bling down, that would’ve seemed im­pos­si­ble,” Munter says. “What that moment taught me was the im­pos­si­ble is pos­si­ble.”

Pa­trick French, dean of the arts and sci­ence de­part­ment at Ahmed­abad Uni­ver­sity in In­dia, was a stu­dent in the Nether­lands when he heard the wall was com­ing down. “We drove through the night across Hol­land and West Ger­many, through the cor­ri­dor to Ber­lin,” he wrote in an email.

He bor­rowed a ham­mer from an Amer­i­can to whack a chunk off the wall. And broke the ham­mer.

“He was dis­pro­por­tion­ately fu­ri­ous. ‘Man, you broke my ham­mer! You broke my ham­mer!!’” wrote French.

“Last year I gave one chunk to my niece and her fi­ancé when they got mar­ried, as they were in­trigued by the story of what had hap­pened,” French wrote. “I have one piece left, and am glad to have it: I re­mem­ber the break­ing of the Ber­lin Wall as a rare moment of pop­u­lar and po­lit­i­cal op­ti­mism, when it seemed that a bad his­tor­i­cal choice was be­ing un­done.”

To­day, many of the pieces have orig­i­nated in gift shops in Ber­lin. Some 90 per cent of them come from one place, a whole­sale wallchunk busi­ness started by Volker Pawlowski.

He bought 300 me­tres of the wall in 1991, says a re­port from Exber­liner, and chips them down into small pieces. He has ad­mit­ted to spray paint­ing his chips to match the graf­fiti on the West side.

“Colour­ful pieces sim­ply sell bet­ter than grey ones,” as he once ex­plained.

You can nab a small fleck for around four dol­lars, while a piece that’s about half the size of a foot­ball will run up to $130. Com­plete sec­tions cost up to $16,000.

What made Pawlowski’s busi­ness stand out, Forbes re­ports, was the pack­ag­ing. A pe­rusal of the com­pany’s web­site shows pieces of the wall wrapped in an arch of acrylic.

But it’s not just the small pieces that are all over the world. You can find larger sec­tions of the wall in un­ex­pected places, such as a Men­non­ite vil­lage in Stein­bach, Man., and in Lunen­burg and Dart­mouth, N.S.

In­deed, 12-foot by 4-foot sec­tions are reg­u­larly doled out as of­fi­cial diplo­matic gifts. You can find slices of it every­where from Rus­sia to the Vat­i­can Gar­dens, Wash­ing­ton to four dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions across Lon­don. There’s a seg­ment in South Korea, me­tres from the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone that sep­a­rates it from North Korea.

Re­cently, a full piece was found in a ware­house in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, where it had sat un­no­ticed for a con­sid­er­able amount of time, Ray­mond Chim told the Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald. “The bloke just turns around, and says, ‘I’ve been mean­ing to ask this: what are you do­ing with a piece of the Ber­lin Wall in your ware­house?’” Chim re­called.

For a con­sid­er­ably weirder ex­pe­ri­ence, you could check out the men’s room at the Main Street Sta­tion casino in down­town Las Ve­gas, where the uri­nals are built into an old sec­tion of the Ber­lin Wall.

A for­mer owner de­signed the casino in the early ’90s, be­fore it went bank­rupt, and was bought by Boyd Gam­ing.

The cur­rent own­ers say they have no idea why it was put there.

“I’m guess­ing it was some kind of a po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary,” said David Strow, the com­pany’s vice-pres­i­dent of cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Strow says it’s a pop­u­lar (if odd) tourist des­ti­na­tion. And, should any women wish to see the wall, he said they need only ap­proach se­cu­rity, who will clear out the men’s room for a visit.

“It is a bit of a se­cret, there is no sig­nage out in the casino … you need to know it’s there,” said Strow. “It is def­i­nitely a unique at­trac­tion.”

A trip to Port­land, Maine, will yield three pieces, at Dimillo’s on the Wa­ter, a pop­u­lar res­tau­rant.

Johnny Dimillo, a co-man­ager and owner, says they don’t even know the back­story of their pieces. Some­one — they don’t know who — of­fered them to his late fa­ther. “I don’t know the gen­tle­man’s name and I don’t know how he ac­quired them.”

In 1996, they were in­stalled on a con­crete prom­e­nade out­side the res­tau­rant and have been there ever since.

“For­get not the tyranny of this wall//hor­rid place// nor the love of free­dom that made it fall// — laid waste,” says the mid­dle piece.

“To see the Cold War come to an end and to see the wall come down, and ac­tu­ally have a part, a piece of that his­tory, come this far, it’s, we feel kinda hon­oured to have it there,” Dimillo said.



A por­tion of the Ber­lin Wall, which di­vided West Ber­lin from the Com­mu­nist East af­ter it was built in 1961, stands in the gar­den of the United Na­tions head­quar­ters in New York City. Pieces of the wall have made it all around the world.

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