Owning a piece of the Berlin Wall

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KATY CLARK: I'm Katy Clark and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. IN Berlin today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was sworn in fro a second term. Merkel famously grew up in communist East Germany. And 20 years ago in the weeks before the wall came down she was helping organize protests against the government there. The wall of course was the most potent symbol of the cold war dividing the city of Berlin in two. Many who attempted to cross form east to west were killed at its base. The collapse of the wall signaled the collapse of communism across Eastern Europe. Here's Dan Rather on CBC.

DAN RATHER: In Berlin this is the definitely the �in� place to be. The sites and sounds � all the joy and the history in front of the Brandenburg Gate with West Berliners partying literally on top of the Berlin Wall in front of the gate.

CLARK: But when the wall came down it didn't disappear. It just went other places as The World's Alex Gallafent reports.

ALEX GALLAFENT: When I started working on this story I put something up on Facebook which just said, �Do you own a piece of the Berlin Wall?� The answers came flooding in from the United States, Britain, and beyond.

MONTAGE OF VARIOUS VOICES: My husband has a piece in his office. There was some at a lunch I went to last week. I think my brother's got a piece. My sister owns a tiny, tiny chunk.

GALLAFENT: The Berlin Wall is kind of everywhere now � especially in the West. It wasn't just bulldozers and wrecking balls that took the wall down. It was hammers and chisels � individuals claiming fragments of history, wrapping them up to keep or sending them home to family or friends � to people like Noah Isenberg. He owns a chunk too.

NOAH ISENBERG: It was just in this little yellow cardboard container that I used to always have on my bookshelves and yet for some strange reason it's gone missing.

HOWARD ROSENBERG: Well it's interesting. I sort of feel like I have a piece of the wall too but it's a different kind of a piece. It's the piece that's in my memory.

GALLAFENT: When the wall came down Howard Rosenberg was the TV critic for Los Angeles Times. He remembers how each of the major networks sent an anchor to be live at the wall. As Rosenberg puts it, �to validate the story for Americans back home.�

ROSENBERG: I mean television does this all the time. I always think of these stories as like a whale being carved up by Eskimos in which they use every bit of the whale � every part of it goes for something and everybody takes a little chunk out of it as if they were � . In this case individually taking a chunk out of the wall. A couple of them even climbed the wall on a ladder. You can't say that they eclipsed this momentous event but they certainly chipped into it.

GALLAFENT: Even as it came down the wall and its meaning were being claimed. It meant the end of oppression or the triumph of freedom or capitalism. Today in Los Vegas it means something � . Well I'm not quite sure what it means. At the Main Street Station Casino Brewery and Hotel there's a hefty section of the wall positioned behind the men's urinals.

ROSENBERG: [LAUGHING] Oh I love it. That's just great.

GALLAFENT: Since 1989 the wall has been sold, bought, and donated. It's been broken apart and reconstructed. There were the small fragments. Some real. Some fake. And then there are the larger pieces. Entire sections of the wall transplanted to new homes. A few of that type are here in New York including one in the heart of the Midtown Business District. A section of the wall has been placed in a courtyard next to an office building.

JULIANE CAMFIELD: It's still very intense. It seems so out of place.

GALLAFENT: I met someone who knew the wall when it was still The Wall.

CAMFIELD: It almost seems unreal. It seems like � . It looks like a movie prop. It seems to me like it can't be really here.

GALLAFENT: Juliane Camfield was born in West Berlin in 1968, seven years after the wall went up. She left in 1989, the year it came down. Now she's a New Yorker. Camfield is her married name. She studies this section of the wall from a distance. It's painted with colorful graffiti faces, as much of the western side was. And set behind the wall there's a fountain, a curtain of water framing the whole thing.

CAMFIELD: I think that's part of what makes it so unreal for me. To have this weird fountain thing in the background because the fountain is sort of something soothing and you know a little tacky. And I think the wall it's not beautiful, it's something very provocative and shocking and symbolizing terror and death and separation and I don't want it to be smoothed out.

GALLAFENT: Juliane Camfield more than anyone else I spoke to, seemed like she really owned a piece of the Berlin Wall. She had relatives in the East. The wall prevented her from knowing them. Her only link was what she learned from her two grandmothers on walks around West Berlin, a little island of freedom.

CAMFIELD: And we'd eventually end up at the wall because wherever you went at some point you would end up at the wall and they really, I guess, they kept their memories alive. They kept their connections to their nephews, nieces, cousins, uncles, aunts. It was very close to their heart. So when I heard them speak about it I guess these two grandmothers more than anything for me established the outrageousness of that piece of architecture.

GALLAFENT: Not everyone has a story like Juliane's. Even people in Berlin itself are no longer defined by the wall as they once were.

CAMFIELD: When I think about Berlin it is mostly a divided Berlin because I grew up in a divided Berlin. When I go back and visit I realize it's a very different city now and the people I knew when I grew up and who did not leave Berlin, for them I think it is much less present even thought hey live there, than it is present for me even though I live away from Berlin. It's a paradox.

GALLAFENT: But Camfield's certain of one thing. She will never own an actual piece of the Berlin Wall. In fact she says she doesn't even think of it as an object. Thinking about its meaning is enough.

CAMFIELD: Do I need to look at it to be aware of that? No, I know that. I don't need to have it.

GALLAFENT: And so she walks away carrying only the idea of the long gone Berlin Wall. For The World I'm Alex Gallafent in New York.

CLARK: You can see photos of Juliane Camfield and the Berlin Wall at The World dot org.