Facing the Wall: Wall Pecking

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Alwin Nachtweh: Enterpreneur at the Wall

The street repair crew worked its way slowly down Friedrichstrasse from Kochstrasse toward Zimmerstrasse, using pneumatic drills to cut though and remove the old asphalt surface. Coming abreast of the former Checkpoint, they approached, then began to remove the fading white demarcation line where in the days of the divided city diplomats and congressmen, as well as Queen Elizabeth and countless tourists and demonstrators had stood, and where Ronald Reagan had made a show of dipping his toe into the Communist East.

Now, in the midst of the repaving project, Alwin Nachtweh steps out of the adjacent Checkpoint Museum and takes in the unfolding scene. With his historian’s instinct that had made him the premier "Mauerspecht" and entrepreneur in saving and purveying memorabilia of the Berlin Wall, Alwin quickly seizes segments of the loosened asphalt bearing parts of the white stripe and carries them off in front of the astonished work crew. Preserved in a glass case like the treasures they are, these fragments of the Cold War are now exhibited for visitors near the one-time Checkpoint.

“Mauerspecht” translates as "wall-pecker," preserving in English the same image of one who hammers at a wall in the way a woodpecker attacks the bark of a tree. For a period of time after the Berlin Wall was opened in 1989-90, chips from the colorfully painted side of the Wall enjoyed brisk sales to visitors wishing to own 'a piece of history.'

Alwin was not the only person so engaged, given the length of the wall, but he is remembered best for his integrity in selling only the genuine article, vouching for his wall fragments, as he says, with the cuts and bruises on his hands but also with his partner Ulrike Wolf’s careful photo-documentation of the before-and-after of each site where he worked.

From his memoir, now at The Wende Museum, you can learn about the extreme hardness of East German concrete against which the home toolbox was powerless, or about developing an effective swing to his mallet as well as the added difficulties of doing so from the top of a ladder. You can also hear about the ins and outs of setting up a vendor’s table near the Brandenburg Gate without a license from either Eastern or Western authorities, shifting your operation according to which side was checking on a given day. And you can let him tell you about his 'basement' where a certain portion of each day’s work went into storage for later sales when the supply of authenticated Wall fragments would diminish.

Alwin Nachtweh Wall Alwin Nachtweh Wall Alwin Nachtweh Selling

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