Berlin Wall Now in Pieces Across USA

FULTON, Mo. — Twenty years after it fell, the Berlin Wall has spread around the world, morphing en route from an instrument of oppression to a symbol of freedom.

The wall is found across the U.S. — in scores of major fragments and sections on display in at least 26 states, from a community college in Hawaii to a floating restaurant in Maine to a park near the World Trade Center.

Pieces of the wall are in seven presidential libraries, a Chicago elevated train station and the men's room of a Las Vegas casino. There's one in the Microsoft cafeteria in Redmond, Wash., another at Fort Knox, Ky. Parts of the wall are at CIA headquarters in Virginia and the Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando.

And the wall is here, 4,700 miles from the city it once divided, in the college town where, in 1946, Winston Churchill named the Iron Curtain.

Westminster College is one of the places where the Cold War began and one of the ones where it ended, the Fort Sumter and the Appomattox of the four-decade struggle between democratic capitalism and totalitarian communism.

Here, Churchill — just voted out of power as Britain's prime minister — warned that "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent."

And here, on a visit in 1992, former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev declared that the end of the Cold War was a "shattering of the vicious circle into which we had driven ourselves."

Gorbachev spoke in front of the longest (32 feet) continuous stretch of the original wall outside Germany. The side that faced West Berlin is covered with graffiti, including the word "unwhar" — untrue. The eastern side is as gray as a prison wall.

Churchill's granddaughter, sculptor Edwina Sandys, had the section brought here and cut out holes in the shapes of a man and a woman. She called it Breakthrough.

As they pass the sculpture on campus, people talk about what the wall means now and about whether, on the first major anniversary of the wall's fall since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, they're safer than 20 years ago.

To some, the wall's remains are relics of victory in America's longest conflict — a bracing contrast at a time when the nation is bogged down in one war and extricating itself from another.

Bob Hawkins, 87, was in the audience the day Churchill spoke here. He calls the wall "a symbol of the triumph of our system over communism. They couldn't match us. The erection of that wall was a confession of that."

But what's left of the wall transcends the Cold War.

Broken, graffitied, dispersed, it has reversed its meaning, especially for those not alive when it was erected in 1961 or torn down 28 years later. Jaclyn Muff, a junior from East Alton, Ill., was born five months before the wall came down.

"It separated Germany," she says, "but now it's everywhere," implicitly demanding freedom from walls — in our world, our communities, our personal lives.

On Monday, the 20th anniversary of the day East Berliners were told they could now visit the West and flocked to the wall, celebrations are planned around the world.

In Berlin, more than 1,000 8-foot-high foam domino tiles will be stacked along the wall's former route and toppled. In Los Angeles, panels from the original wall have been erected along Wilshire Boulevard.

At Westminster, students will put up a replica of the wall next to the real one and tear it down. A celebration will follow, with German food and beer and unusual party favors: concrete bits from the college's stockpile of pieces of the Berlin Wall.

'I have a message'

In early 1946, President Truman forwarded to Churchill, Britain's wartime prime minister, an invitation to speak at a small liberal arts college in Truman's home state. "I will introduce you," Truman wrote.

"I have a message to deliver," Churchill replied. "There is an opportunity for doing some good to this bewildered, baffled and breathless world."

The end of World War II had exacerbated tensions among the Allies — the United States and Britain on one hand, the Soviet Union on the other — and now Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was consolidating his hold on the Eastern European nations that were behind Soviet lines when Germany surrendered.

In the 1930s, Churchill had warned in vain about German dictator Adolf Hitler. Now, at 71, Churchill's political career apparently over (he would become prime minister again in 1951), he again would sound the alarm.

His message that day in Fulton: Soviet Russia respects nothing more than military strength and nothing less than military weakness. Only America, backed by the British Commonwealth, could deter communist aggression. Churchill sparked an uproar.

The Chicago Sun-Times said the objective of his "poisonous" speech was "world domination through arms." The liberal Nation and the conservative Wall Street Journal both objected. Stalin called his old ally "a warmonger."

The speech, however, proved prophetic. Stalin tightened his grip on nations such as Poland, and the USA responded by creating the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe and forming the NATO military alliance.

Eventually, two powers holding thousands of long-range missiles equipped with nuclear warheads developed the ability to destroy each other and the world. In the U.S., students practiced duck-and-cover drills under their desks, and their parents built home fallout shelters.

Once, heartland towns such as Fulton had felt safe from foreign attack. Now, with 64 B-52 bomber bases scattered around the country and Minuteman missile silos buried across the Plains, no one was far from a target.

Berlin, which like Germany had been split by the Allies after the war, was at the center of this struggle.

By 1961, living standards in the West had so far surpassed those behind the Iron Curtain that East Germany was emptying out. So the Communist regime closed the border and built a 96-mile wall around West Berlin.

It was a propaganda disaster. Democracy might not be perfect, President Kennedy admitted on a visit to Berlin, but "we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in."

On a visit in 1987, President Reagan called on his Soviet counterpart: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

On Nov. 9, 1989, it happened. After years of rising unrest and economic stagnation, the East German government said its citizens could freely visit the West. Crowds of East Berliners climbed onto the wall, where they were joined by West Berliners.

In the weeks and months that followed, people kept chipping away at the wall, to destroy it, collect souvenirs or obtain pieces to sell in the United States as Christmas stocking stuffers.

Sandys, Churchill's granddaughter, got the East German government to give her a section for a sculpture, which she offered to Westminster College.

On Nov. 9, 1990, Reagan came to Fulton to dedicate the sculpture. After the Soviet Union was dissolved, Gorbachev came, too, and spoke from the same lectern as Churchill. Then he stepped through the hole in the wall.

Today, little is left of the wall in Berlin, besides a few long sections. (One is shown in an advertisement for Louis Vuitton luggage that features Gorbachev.) Much of its concrete was broken up and used as road pavement.

Pieces have been made into earrings and bracelets. They sit on countless desktops and knickknack shelves. They are on eBay, where a piece the size of a baseball can be had for $20.

Larger pieces are rarer and more expensive; an 11-by-4-foot panel might cost $10,000 to $30,000, depending on the presence (and quality) of original graffiti.

One 3-ton piece, purchased in 1996 for $17,500, is in a men's room at the Main Street Station Casino in Las Vegas, where it anchors a row of urinals. People have written, hammered and danced on the wall; in Vegas, they can do something else on it.

What the wall means now

Even where its parts have been reassembled, "The wall is not a wall anymore," says Justinian Jampol, an expert on Eastern Europe Cold War artifacts. "It's a blank canvas on which people put their own meaning."

Members of the Westminster College community illustrate his point:

Barney Forsythe, the college president, was a junior Army officer in West Berlin from 1971 to 1974. His brigade drilled on a field bounded by the wall, in sight of East German guards.

"I watched it come down with my wife in our TV room when I was teaching at West Point. We sat there and cried. It felt like the end of the Cold War, and that, frankly, we'd won."

Because of terrorism, he says, "I don't think we're safer now. In the Cold War we had symmetric power relationships, deterrence. The threat (of nuclear war) was significant, but the probability was low."

Alex Belykh, a junior, is a Moscow native whose father worked in the Soviet military. After the fall of the wall and communism, his family's income fluctuated wildly and prices outpaced government salaries.

He doesn't feel he was on the losing side: "I don't feel like I was part of the Cold War. It was mostly ideological, us vs. them. But we're really all in this together. ... The wall does not mean that much any more."

Safety, he says, is relative. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, "there was never any street crime. Now I wouldn't go to certain parts of Moscow alone after 9 p.m."

Philip Mohr, a senior from Maryland Heights, Mo., notes that his class here is the last in which virtually everyone was born before the wall fell. Even so, the wall is almost an abstraction.

"It's a window to the past, but it doesn't have a direct connection to me. A surprising number of students walk past it and don't care." Soon, he says, November 1989 "will seem as distant as World War II."

Kim Kuci, a football coaching assistant, grew up in West Berlin a few blocks from East Berlin. To him, the wall looks like home: "I wonder how many times I walked past this when I was young. I was 15 when it came down — I was right there!" That first evening he couldn't join the party at the border; he had football practice.

Today, he says, "terrorism is a different kind of threat" than nuclear annihilation. "But it's not the end of the world any more. I feel safer."

Mateja Pehar, a sophomore, was born in what was Yugoslavia less than six weeks before the wall came down.

Her reaction to the wall section here is "completely different" than most Americans, she says, because the end of the Iron Curtain paved the way for a civil war "that made life worse for my country."

She's from Mostar, a city in what is today Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the war, her Christian Croatian family was driven from home in a predominantly Bosnian Muslim neighborhood; a grenade exploded on a balcony below her apartment.

She doesn't feel safer in the post-wall world.

"People can start a war just like that, and it could be 10 times worse than it was before. There's more competition in the world now. I don't think there'll ever be peace, not completely."

Baxter Watson was a sophomore at Westminster in 1946 when he was asked to escort Churchill and Truman from the college president's house, where they had lunch, to the gym where Churchill spoke.

He mostly recalls the spectacle — Churchill with his trademark cigar and "V" sign, the crowd of 25,000, the academic procession, the sight and sound of the great orator. When the speech was over, though, he didn't think Churchill had said anything new.

Today the wall reminds Watson of when, for the first time, destruction of the American heartland seemed possible.

When he saw Gorbachev step through one of the sculptural cutouts, Watson says, "I knew the Cold War was really over."

On balance, however, he's not sure the world is much better off.

"The enemy used to wear a uniform, and it was clear what the communists were doing. Now it's not so clear. I think we traded in one set of problems for another."

READERS: Where were you when the wall came down?