It is one of the greatest moments in televised history — excited friends and family members tear through the Berlin Wall, reuniting East and West Germany after decades of separation.
The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War and sparked a capitalist sentiment to distribute and sell portions of the wall. Within months, individuals displayed pieces of the Berlin Wall in their homes while museums showed off large painted segments. Pieces regularly come up for sale on the internet today. Exactly how rare is the average piece of the Berlin Wall, and do the pieces warrant the prices being paid for them?
The Berlin Wall spanned 155 kilometers, combining concrete walls and razor wire topped fences to create the border. Numerous checkpoints and over 300 watchtowers stretched along the wall. The German Democratic Republic constructed the wall to keep anti-socialist individuals present in West Germany out of East Germany.
The citizens of West Germany quickly covered their side with graffiti and art, while the East German side remained a dull grey. On the East German side, a "death strip" extending in front of the wall existed, allowing those manning watchtowers to spot East German citizens attempting to escape. Up to 5,000 individuals crossed the wall without permission, with over 200 dying in the process. One could legally pass across the boundary, but under numerous financial and time restrictions.
As with most any moment of geopolitical significance, individuals will seek a way to monetize the experience and event. Pieces of the Berlin Wall quickly spread throughout the world, a memorable souvenir for those visiting the area or as a collectible to mark the end of the Cold War and a "duck and cover" mentality.
A small group of collectors actively traveled to Berlin to bring back pieces of the wall for re-sale, with their wares still on the internet. These collectors sought out larger pieces over small ones, with many pieces available for sale. Smaller pieces bring up to $50 on the internet, with large pieces measuring over a foot on each side selling for several thousand dollars.
But how many pieces are there? Concrete will break destructively, with household chisels and axes used to separate the wall in the first days after the fall. Most of the souvenir pieces of the Berlin Wall came from the fourth period of construction, the 45,000 slabs of concrete spread along the wall between between 1975 and 1980 that covered 46 kilometers of the 155-kilometer wall. Each slab rose rose 3.6-meters high, 1.2-meters wide, and roughly 0.2-meters thick.
Using the dimensions of these 45,000 walls, the volume of concrete within the wall can be calculated. Conservatively assuming fifty percent of each wall is turned to dust or rendered unusable during the demolition process, each slab would yield 10,600 golf ball sized pieces. With 45,000 thousand walls in existence, this comes to approximately 480-million pieces. This is enough to give one golf-ball-sized piece of the Berlin Wall to every 15 people on the planet.
By this calculation, small pieces of the Berlin Wall are by no means rare or investment worthy due to the sheer number of pieces possibly out there in the wild. These numbers fail to include any of concrete pieces taken from the older sections of the wall, or portions of the wall that stay in place as a memorial. And not all pieces of the Berlin Wall are grey pieces of concrete, however, with some covered in paint or graffiti; pieces formerly belonging to sophisticated murals that covered the western side of the wall.
The large segments of the Berlin Wall containing murals, however, are another story. Several are on display throughout the world, with each piece being a unique mix of history and art.
The individual slabs of the concrete structure are held within the collections of several museums, with collections of painted and unpainted slabs on display at 97 locations across the world. Slabs from the fourth portion of construction are held in at least fifty sites in North America, dotting Universal Studios Orlando, the Microsoft home offices, a Chicago Metro station, universities, and the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum.
If you would like a piece of the Berlin Wall, one easy way to get a chunk is through buying a copy of the 2007 video game World in Conflict. The collectors edition of the game runs about $40 online, with each sealed copy containing a piece of the fabled wall. While the piece of the Berlin Wall inside does not hold much monetary value, it does mark one of the greatest moments in recent history, the reunification of hundreds of thousands of long suffering families and friends.