Monday, November 9th, 2009 will mark the 20th anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall came down. Built with barbed wire and concrete in August of 1961 by the Communist East, The Berlin Wall, stretching for about 30 miles, was a Cold War symbol which separated East and West Berlin, preventing people from leaving East Germany. According to the “August 13 Association” which specializes in the history of the Berlin Wall, at least 938 people – 255 in Berlin alone – died, shot by East German border guards, attempting to flee to West Berlin or West Germany. It stood for 28 years as a division between the Soviets and the Allies. The wall was torn down after Communism collapsed in 1989. During the summer of 1989, tens of thousands of East Germans fled the communist regime. The photos below show the initial building of the Wall in 1961, the fall of the Wall in 1989 and how the sections of the Wall look today. The last group of photos shows comparisons of how Berlin looked with the Wall and how the city looks now that the Wall is gone.
With the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaching museums around the world will have historic sections of the wall on display, including the Vatican, John F. Kennedy Library, the United Nations headquarters and 13 Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museums.
Yes – Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
Ripley’s owns what is likely the largest collection of Berlin Wall sections in the world – 16 10-by-10 foot sections of the wall, most of which are on display at its museums around the world. So how did a company famous for oddities acquire 160 feet of the Berlin Wall?
“Like most of the country, we were watching the events unfold on TV,” said Edward Meyer, VP of Exhibits for Ripley’s Believe It or Not! “A couple of people in our company had the idea that something significant was about to unfold and we should get over there as fast as possible.”
Meyer was part of a small Ripley’s team that was soon on the ground in Berlin. Meyer said “It was one of the most emotional things I have ever experienced. To walk in and out of holes in the wall and experience something that had been impossible for nearly 30 years was truly amazing.”
As people around him stuffed chunks of the wall into suitcases, Meyer started scouting for the most interesting sections he could find and prepared to make offers to buy them.
“It was a bit of a free-for-all, because no one really owned the wall,” he said. “We received assistance from an American diplomat who shall remain nameless, and we dealt directly with the German military.”
Ripley’s was soon the proud owner of 160 feet of Berlin Wall – 16 sections that each weighed about 2 tons.
“Buying it was easy. Getting it home was the hard part,” laughed Meyer. The sections were taken down and put on a barge and floated up the river to Hamburg and eventually placed on a shipping vessel and sent to the U.S. Meyer won’t reveal the purchase price, but says “it cost us about 50 times more to ship the collection to the U.S. than it did to buy it.”
Today most of the sections are popular exhibits at Ripley museums around the world. Two of the sections not currently on display will eventually head back overseas to go on display at proposed Ripley museums in Bahrain and Korea.
“We were there for one of the most historic events of the 20th century,” said Meyer. “And our collection still serves as a living history lesson today.”
Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum and 4D Theater in Williamsburg is your destination for the strange, unusual and bizarre. Call 757-220-9220 for more information or click here for more information.