‘Literally a piece of history’: Parts of the Berlin Wall, large and small, are now scattered across the globe
|National Post 08 Nov 2019 at 19:33|
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.
A portion of the Berlin Wall stands in the garden of the United Nations headquarters in New York. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
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 wall-chunk 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.
A piece of the Berlin Wall, encased in resin, that was given to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. City of Ottawa
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 buisness 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, Nova Scotia.
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.
A part of the Berlin Wall at Berlin square in Seoul, South Korea. Heo Ran/Reuters
Recently, a full piece was found in a warehouse in Sydney, Asutralia, 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.
A segment of the Berlin Wall at the Sakharov centre in Moscow, Russia. Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters
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 back story 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.
— With files from The Daily Telegraph
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