To mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we asked readers to tell us how they had managed to obtain their own piece of the historic barrier. Here are some of their stories:
In 1991, I was backpacking Europe and spent the day walking along the Berlin Wall. I smashed away chunks of it with an iron bar in a quiet section, while a blond German boy tagged along, helping me to find good pieces (I bought him a hot dog for lunch). On my train to Amsterdam I realized I had left my rocks on the station platform, so in the middle of the night I got off at a deserted station, waited hours for the next train back, and went back to Berlin. The rocks were gone so I had to smash away more pieces. I have one on my desk at work. — Michael Lyman, Largo, Fla.
My father, Lt. Arthur J. Leedy, fought in World War II and was a proud veteran all of his life. When the wall came down, I was friends with a couple over in Germany who got my father a 4" x 4" colorful piece of the "wall" as it was being handed out to spectators by the hundreds. She brought the piece back to me and I made the trip to my elderly father's home. It was the most emotion I had ever seen on his face! He touched it with shaking fingers and held it to him and said, "I earned this piece of history." It was a defining moment for us both. — Cynthia C. Owen, Henderson, Texas
I was born and raised in East Germany. When the Wall came down in 1989 I was 31 years old.
My mother and I took the night train to Berlin. It was a short notice decision, not planned at all. We had a small travel suitcase, a hammer and a chisel with us. We also had our combined fortune of 67.45 West German Marks to get a birthday gift for my son and bananas. It was just an amazing atmosphere. It is hard to describe, we talked to total strangers and we all did feel like knowing each other forever. Mom and I took our chisel and hammer out and just joined people already working on their claim of the wall. This concrete was to last forever. It was very hard and it took me a great deal of effort to get some little pieces loose. After we accomplished our mission, we just walked around on the “other “side of the Wall enjoying West Berlin. We bought our bananas and a small gift for my son and took the night train back home to Thuringia. — Elke Guratzsch, Washington, Ind.
From September 1989 to August 1990 I was studying in Germany on a Fulbright Fellowship. We danced and sang with those celebrating around the Brandenburg Gate. Later, a young man had a hammer and a crowbar and was chipping away at the wall, so I asked to borrow his hammer. I quickly had as many pieces of the wall as I was willing to carry. My best memory is the train ride back to my university from Berlin. I was wearing denim overalls and sitting in a compartment with 5 East Germans. A lady commented on the way I was dressed, and I explained I was American. Suddenly I was being embraced by all these strangers, while they laughed and cried. One older lady said, "In my whole life I've never traveled anywhere and been able to speak freely with other travelers." — Jamie Kohen, Millry, Ala.
Iwas in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Sembach Air Base, Germany. We watched the glorious event on television in our apartment in Kaiserslautern/Volgelweh, Germany, and heard the partying in the streets outside. The weeks that followed were exciting, especially to see all the people from East Germany traveling through our area, "free at last". A couple of months later in January or February, I went to Berlin for a military wrestling tournament. That piece of the Berlin Wall means so much to me and I show it off every chance I get. In my mind, I was able to actually help "tear down" a small piece of the "oppression and tyranny" the Berlin Wall symbolized. — David Roth, Weston, W.Va.
I was working in Germany for 2 months back in November and December 1989 as an international auditor. I was based at the HQ in Munich and took a weekend trip to Berlin right when the wall was coming down. I decided I was going to bring home some pieces of the wall and give them away as Christmas presents. So I rented a huge chisel and hammer from this guy at the wall and began to chip away pieces. That was one solid wall! The pieces were not easy to chip off by at all. After considerable work I had about a dozen pieces. Now I had about 20 pounds of wall to carry back to the hotel and eventually back home to Florida in my carry-on luggage! Over the years, I must have misplaced the one or two pieces that I kept for myself, because I no longer have any. However, I will always carry with me the memories of chipping away at that wall. — Sean Sykes, Miramar, Fla.
I was standing on the west side of the wall when a big man speaking German pushed me down. They were beginning to tear down the wall and I couldn't see much from the ground. I felt a small part of the wall about the size of a pebble hit my head and was satisfied. I went home and my husband drilled a hole in it so I could wear it as a necklace. I still wear it to this day!
— Matilda Lewis, Oklahoma City, Okla.
'Young and dumb'
It was June 27th, 1989. We all knew the wall was coming down. We didn't know it was considered theft if we just took a piece; I mean it was coming down after all! My friend told me to take a piece, so of course me being me.... I did. I just went up and broke a big chunk off. Someone yelled "Run" and that's exactly what we did. As we fell into our auto, we were all laughing so hard I'm surprised anyone was able to drive. But we managed to merge right into traffic and no one around us was the wiser. For weeks I was terrified every time someone knocked on my door. I think back on the experience and give a little giggle. Oh what fun it was to be young and dumb! — Jacki Alsobrook, Carmichael, Calif.
I got my piece of the wall during the summer of 2000. There were still many sections of the wall still standing. Enterprising young Germans were renting hammers, mallets, and other tools and you could chip away. I didn't rent anything. I simply scooped up some debris left behind by a group of young Japanese or Chinese tourists. I still have them. — William Joseph Miller, Los Angeles, Calif.
I acquired my piece of the Berlin Wall from a German friend who grew up in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. Coincidentally, his father was in the Axis army and my father was in the Allied army. However, we were neighbors for many years. He and his children helped to chip down the wall and brought back many pieces to Thailand. Amazing how people from across the world can be brought together through historic events. — Boonyuen Suksaneh, Phrae, Thailand
During the summer of 1991, I had the privilege to go to Germany as part of the Civil Air Patrol's International Air Cadet Exchange program. There were a number of areas of wall remaining and I happened upon a relatively remote section where pieces were littering the ground, free for the taking. I ended up bringing back about 12 pounds of it, which I have kept to this day as a reminder of both the cost and the inevitability of freedom. — Anonymous, Lubbock, Texas
My boss and I were in West Berlin on business and had needed to extend our stay for that reason. However, the hotel was booked due to the influx of media personnel. We were lucky enough to secure (and share) a room at a rooming house. The old woman who ran it gave us a piece of the wall as a gift when we left a couple of days later. That made up for the lack of hot water in the shower. — Anonymous, York, Pa.
'Lesson on history and culture'
When I was a child growing up in Maine and Utah I watched the Berlin Wall on television with fascination. I couldn't understand how it could be that a wall had been built through the center of a city. When the wall came down, I was surprised but delighted and loved watching the celebration on TV. My fascination with Berlin continued and when I finally visited Berlin in my mid-20s I brought home a bit of the wall from a souvenir shop. At 27 years of age I made Berlin my home ... my first flat was a stone's throw from where the Wall had been (by 2003 an empty field) on the former eastern side. Now I've been a "Berlinerin" for over 6 years. Our first child, who will come next year, will be a Berliner by birth. My bit of the Berlin Wall I left behind with friends in Utah ... calling Berlin home is enough for me. — Maggie McFie, Berlin
I visited Berlin back in the spring of 1993. I was stationed in Bavaria with the United States Army at the time. Being only 19 at the time I was swept away by the atmosphere of Germany, a foreign country. Yes, not only did I get a piece of the Berlin Wall but I also received a lesson on history and culture not ever given in any American schools that I attended. — Marcus Kellebrew, Monticello, Ark.
I bought a piece of the Berlin Wall in 1990 in the U.S. It was part of a Peterbilt Truck Company promotion to mark their 50th anniversary, 1939-1989. The small piece of rock is nicely mounted in a 9-sided lucite piece, with a black plastic base. It came with a certificate of authenticity. — Anonymous, Woodinville, Wash.
I was in Berlin a few months after the wall fell. Capitalism was in full swing. I paid a few marks and rented a sledge hammer and chisel from a vendor. I then got my own pieces of the wall. Boy was that commie concrete hard!
— Don Werno, Santa Ana, Calif.
My husband brought me a piece of the Berlin Wall home from Germany when he returned recently from a deployment to Iraq. They stopped over in Germany and he wanted to get me a gift. I don't know if it is real or not, and I don't care. My husband thought of me and it was a truly sweet gift. He is a true hero. — Anonymous, Norman, Okla.
How I lost a piece of the wall. My kids were visiting my mom. She had a bit brought back by a friend who had been there. The kids saw it on the dresser and took it outside to throw rocks. I looked and looked but we never found it. The kids were 6, 4 and 2 years old so we did forgive them. — Charlotte Mountain, Newburgh, N.Y.
I bought a piece from the tourist center at the Brandenburg Gate. Prior to this I would've loved to own a piece of history but thought everything was dodgy! But I knew this was legit so I bought it. The commercialism of the West is alive and well! — Siobhan Walsh, Leicester, United Kingdom
As a USAF service member stationed in Berlin, we gathered up bottles of champagne, stuffed them in backpacks and off we were to the wall. We just got off our shift and in disbelief, a group of us had to see it for ourselves. We all chipped off pieces of the wall that night as a memento to prove it really happened. We saw Tom Brokaw needing some translation assistance (I think he was trying to get information out of a gentleman who had way too much to drink), we stepped in since we were German linguists and became part of his broadcast. He signed our 20 Mark bills with appreciation of our assistance. It is a night I will never, never, never forget. — Kelly Pitt Kabiri, Arlington, Va.
I didn't end up with a piece of the Berlin Wall, but I was in East Berlin in 1991 with a high school group. Part of the tour that our teacher led us on brought us to where the wall was still standing — she explained to us that some sections were being sold to museums around the world. We took a group photo by the wall and I decided to try if I could get my own souvenir. I picked up a good-sized rock and hammered it against the concrete...all I came away with was a stubbed thumb, but with the memory of being there, touching the wall with my own hands, and seeing it slowly being destroyed forever. — Jennifer McCarty, Anchorage, Alaska
I served in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in Berlin from 1965 to 1967. My sister-in-law purchased a piece of the wall and gave it to me as a Christmas gift just after the wall came down. I already have a piece of barbed wire I took from the wall as I was being watched by East German guards with their guns trained in my direction. Dumb thing to do but I was only 19 at the time. — Larry Miller, Sammamish, Wash.
When I was a high school student back in 1976 I took part in an exchange program between students in Ontario, Canada, and counterparts in various states within Germany. I was paired with a student who lived in Berlin and stayed with his family for 3 months that year. The wall was inescapable — it was nearly impossible to be out of its view, or of the view of the multiple-times-daily patrols on ground or by air. It took some time to come to the realization that although you were completely surrounded by the wall, you were the one on the outside.
In the spring of 1990, I was scheduled to attend a conference in London, so I got in touch with my friend to arrange a visit. While I was there, he and I went out one night with a hammer and chisel and found a section of the wall that had not yet been completely torn down. A few whacks and I had a dozen or so smallish pieces of concrete. — Paul LeBlanc, Toronto, Canada
I received a small box with a piece of the wall for my birthday in 1998 or 99. We had a house fire and lost everything in 2001. It became part of the rubble removed from the house. Mixed in with everything else. Lost forever....... — Doug Burley, Mich.
I bought a piece of the wall from a street vendor in 1989 while I was an exchange student in Switzerland. I travelled to Berlin and bought it from a street vendor. My biggest regret, however, is not buying one of the Soviet commander's tank watches that the USSR used to give out. It had a cool picture of a Soviet tank on it!! — Anonymous, College Station, Texas
Although I don't have a piece of the wall I have 2 years worth of memories from my Army duty back in 1969 and 1971. I could see up close one of the East Berlin guard towers from my apartment. — John Getz, Seminole, Fla.
A Gypsy had set up a table on the west side of the Brandenburg Gate with little baggies of brightly painted plaster. I asked him if the pieces were genuine. He said, "Hey, Julio!" A boy about 13 ran over to the wall and chipped off a few pieces. The Gypsy put them in a small Ziploc bag which I still have. — Anonymous, Pittsburgh, Pa.
I carried several big shopping bags filled with barbwire and rocks of the Berlin Wall back to Los Angeles in the early 90s but have forgotten to keep a piece for myself. Some even went to Nebraska to friends. But I don't have any. In a way, I have more than most people have — the memories. — Brigitte Henningsen, Palm Springs, Calif.
I was a flight attendant flying Frankfurt layovers. On landing in Frankfurt my friend and I decided to jump on a short Pan Am flight to Berlin. We shipped a hammer and chisel in cargo and proceeded to the Berlin Wall where we ended up paying two young German boys 5 Deutsch Marks to hammer out chunks of the wall to bring home with us. It was January 2, 1990 and after going through Checkpoint Charlie and viewing East Berlin, which was like going back on time 50 years, we headed back to the airport. Well worth the trip! — Pamela Wethington, Delray Beach, Fla.
The collapse of the Berlin Wall benefited me immensely. As a result of this historic event, I was able to have a Russian wife! Thank you President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev. — Don Byers, Carlsbad, N.M.
'Something historic was about to happen'
I was an exchange pastor in West Berlin ('81) and lived with the Rhode family and visited the wall several times and took many pictures. During the school year of '88-'89, we hosted their daughter, Inge, during her senior year at Kaneland High School in Elburn, Ill. She returned to Berlin in late August, thinking the wall would last her lifetime. As the events of that fateful November day unraveled, we had three excited phone calls from Inge, with first-hand accounts of the progress. Shortly after the dust settled, we received our own piece of history, which is now mounted and always on display. — Rev. Robert Anderson, Grinnell, Iowa
I was stationed in southern Germany during that time. My wife (a native Berliner) and I were in Berlin visiting her mother. We knew something historic was about to happen. Crowds had gathered everywhere. People were climbing the wall, people had started chipping away chunks. The East German guards were standing looking on in amazement. I borrowed a hammer and chisel from a student. I brought home several more but gave them away to friends. — Donald Roberts, Fulton, Miss.
I was a sophomore in high school and bought a piece of the wall from a store at the local mall. — Melissa Lopez, San Diego, Calif.
I was in Germany watching the fall of the wall on local TV. One of the reporters crying once they started tearing down the wall. Even though I was only 4, I can remember it. I have two pieces, but they are locked up so nothing can ever happen to them. — Darren Marley, Goldsboro, N.C.
I was stationed in Berlin during the time at Templehof AFB. I remember that night as if it was yesterday. I went to the wall by the Reichstag and me and some strangers climbed up on top. It was Thursday night and for the next four days, I spent going to the wall. Me and 2 other Air Force buddies decided to take a hammer and a screwdriver and we each just kept hammering at the wall. It took a lot more effort than I thought. I know it was very very cold, some of the coldest days in Berlin for that November. But after hours out there, I finally got a huge piece with some type of steal bar running through it. That big chunk currently sits in my mother's house. But the biggest thing I remember is thinking ‘if the wall can fall without a single shot being fired, then world peace is a possibility.’ Of course that was foolish thinking on my part back then. But for those four days we had the hope of peace because I knew it was the end of the Cold War. — Anonymous, Glen Burnie, Md.
I was visiting family in the days and weeks surrounding the fall of the wall. I had attempted to get closer to the action, but the crowds were crushing. I ended up seeing it on television in Berlin. The days after the wall were a joyous, and to many confusing, time for Berliners. The partying and celebrations were non-stop. — Patric Lehmann, Toronto, Canada
I am a teacher in Arizona... I have a piece of the Berlin Wall — thanks to a parent who noticed that I had sand from Omaha Beach. We now have half of each. — Pat Wolfe, Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
I was in Navy boot camp when the Berlin Wall fell. We didn't learn about it falling until 2 days after it started when we were given phone privileges and our families told us about it. It was a strange time to be in boot camp as our lessons were telling us the mission of the Navy was to fight Communism and to keep the sea channels open for trade and here — the last symbol of Communism was falling. I purchased a piece of the wall that year. There was no World Wide Web just yet, and I don't remember the exact retailer. I vaguely recall I got it through the mail somehow. — Amy Moore, Pownal, Vt.
On a student exchange trip in the spring of 1994, I toured the Berlin Wall and took a piece directly from it considering it might be worth something one day. I still have it somewhere, and have to laugh at stories of so many fake pieces being sold that the wall would wrap around the world several times... — Anonymous, Hyattsville, Md.