Berlin Wall still selling, but commoditized

Mon May 11, 2009 8:41pm EDT
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By Kerstin Gehmlich

BERLIN (Reuters) - Volker Pawlowski is not much of a philosopher. But in his Berlin warehouse filled with concrete pieces of Berlin Wall neatly stocked in banana boxes, the entrepreneur asserts that man cannot live on Wall alone.

"I would starve if I tried," he said, looking around the warehouse from where he also sells glitter-sprayed postcards and T-Shirts showing other Berlin tourist attractions.

Twenty years after the fall of the concrete barrier that divided Berlin in communist times, Pawlowski is still the go-to man for souvenir fragments.

Germany's leaders are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall this year with emotional speeches in the run-up to a November 9 commemoration, but Pawlowski, a German former construction worker, is pragmatic about the Cold War's most-hated symbol.

"To me, the Wall is a product like any other. It's business," Pawlowski said, standing in the midst of thousands of small graffiti-sprayed pieces, arranged according to size.

The heavily fortified 106 km (65 mile) Wall, built in 1961 and encircling West Berlin, was breached on the night of November 9, 1989. Hundreds of so-called Mauerspechte ("Wall-woodpeckers") chipped away at the colourful chunks on the Wall's western side.

That night launched months of euphoria, the end of communism and -- for Pawlowski, who was working on the West side -- a nice opportunity. Now he supplies around 90 percent of Wall relics sold in Berlin's souvenir stores.

"It started off when I saw someone at a flea market, selling pieces of the Wall. I simply thought: I can do better than that," said the 52-year old.   Continued...

<p>A worker sorts Berlin Wall souvenirs at the company of Volker Pawlowski, a 52-year-old businessman who runs his own Berlin Wall souvenir company, in Berlin April 17, 2009. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz</p>