20 Years, And 89 Pounds Of The Berlin Wall Later

Rivka Solomon, chipping away at the Berlin Wall

hide captionAuthor Rivka Solomon (right) at the Berlin Wall in November 1989. She chipped off 90 pounds of wall — 89 of which still sits in a dusty box in her basement.

Courtesy of Rivka Solomon

Remember when the Berlin Wall fell? When, 20 years ago, the only images on TV were hordes of East and West Berliners streaming through the gates with their picks, axes, jackhammers meeting miles of graffiti-covered concrete.

Those crazy Germans thought they could chip the wall out of existence.

Remember that history-making event? I do; I was there.

Flat broke, but knowing I had to go, I borrowed money and promised to have it back in one week. After all, I'd read in the newspaper that entrepreneurial East Berlin kids were making a killing selling chipped-off pieces of wall to tourists. I could do that.

I packed my bags.

When my backpack slid down the baggage ramp at the Berlin airport, my pick and hammer clanked loudly. It was midnight, but I went straight to the wall. With my first whack, I realized my capitalist plan was no match against communist engineering.

Persevering, I spent near every waking moment at the wall either discussing glasnost, perestroika and the end of the Cold War with the thousands of stunned Berliners flocking around — or else hammering.

I left three days later, with 90 pounds of concrete.

Back in Boston, I sorted and bagged my booty, then headed to New York and set up shop on the sidewalk outside Macy's. It was rush hour, and folks were in a Christmas-buying frenzy.

I displayed my airline tickets and photos: proof of my trip. Suddenly I was surrounded. "How much?" They shouted. "Look, she was really there," they pointed to my display. "Great stocking stuffers!" I heard someone say.

In 10 minutes, I'd made $350, the cost of my plane ticket. And I still had 89 pounds of wall left.

Then a man asked, "Say, do you have a street vendor's permit?"

A permit?

He flashed a badge, swept my entire display, table and wall into a garbage bag, handcuffed me and whistled for a blue van. I was inside that van with five other vendor-offenders before you could say, " 'Tis the season to be jolly."

Rivka Solomon i i

hide captionRivka Solomon has a book, play and open-mike movement all called That Takes Ovaries!

Courtesy of Rivka Solomon
Rivka Solomon

Rivka Solomon has a book, play and open-mike movement all called That Takes Ovaries!

Courtesy of Rivka Solomon

Grilled, then fingerprinted, I became a jailhouse celebrity. They'd never confiscated the Berlin Wall before. At 10 p.m., my captors abruptly released me. Dazed, I walked out into the dark street.

Three weeks later, a court-appointed lawyer pleaded with the judge to let me off. The judge rolled his eyes. "Pieces of the Berlin Wall. Right, sure."

"They're real!" I barked back, New York style. My lawyer told me to sit down and shut up. I did, and he got the case dismissed.

A month passed and I visited New York's Confiscated Goods Warehouse. I opened the sealed evidence bag and was elated; it was all there.

Twenty years later, it still is. Yes, I have 89 pounds of Berlin Wall sitting in a dusty box in my basement.

That, and a priceless collection of memories from a three-day whirlwind trip where I witnessed the end of the Cold War.

Rivka Solomon has a book, play and open-mike movement all called That Takes Ovaries! A modified version of this story first appeared in her book. She can be reached at Rivka@ThatTakesOvaries.org

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