Hey, dude! Wanna buy a Berlin Wall?
Yep. As off-the-wall ideas go, this one was right up there.
"At the time, it just seemed like a wacky thing to do." So says Aaron DeVault, an ASU student who hopes to recoup the cost of a trip to Germany by fencing 200 pounds of the concrete curtain he and two traveling companions spirited out of the country in late November. "We'd seen people on TV chipping pieces of it off and we thought it would be fun to go over there for the political aspect of the whole thing. It looked like a real party. Five days later we were on our way."
Okay, so maybe it wasn't that simple. Although DeVault's nonchalance makes it sound as if he's rehashing a spur-of-the-moment beer-run, he admits to making a few inquiries before making tracks for Deutschland. "We called a few people in Berlin to see if it was still possible to get pieces of the wall," he says, "and everyone we talked to said, `No problem.' A lot of the military guys even had big hunks of it in their barracks."
Unfortunately for 22-year-old DeVault, his 18-year-old brother Donald and 24-year-old fellow student Brad Dutton, the East German government began cracking down on wall-snatchers shortly before their arrival on November 22. "By the time we got there, so many people had chiseled off pieces of the wall that holes and gaps were forming," he says. "It turned out we couldn't work at all during the day."
Instead, the trio was forced to work under cover of darkness. Armed with chisels, sledgehammers and a gas- powered masonry saw, the souvenir- seekers finally got down to business after hiking through the snow to an unscathed section of wall five miles north of the Brandenburg Gate.
"It was cold, dark and scary," recalls DeVault. "Here we were, halfway around the world, hacking away at the Berlin Wall in the middle of the night. All of sudden we heard three guards on the other side of the wall yelling at us in German and I thought, `Oh, my God! We're all going to jail!'"
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Happily, the international scrimmage ended amicably during a face-off through a section of chain-link fence. Although neither party spoke the other's language, diplomatic relations were restored when the guards made it clear they'd look the other way if the DeVault faction bought pins and hats from their uniforms. After that, it was a piece of strudel. "We didn't have any trouble getting the stuff out of the country," reports DeVault, who "maxed out" two big suitcases with the concrete. Estimating the wall-haul at between 150 and 200 pounds, DeVault and his partners are now merchandising 1989's answer to the Pet Rock from Expressions, a Tempe silk-screening shop he and Dutton operate.
Pricing it at $8 per square inch of graffiti, DeVault claims to have sold about $1,000 worth of the barrier--mostly to history buffs and people with family ties to Germany. "We're just hoping we can make back our travel expenses," he says, explaining airfare alone set the scavengers back a total of $2,100.
Although DeVault won the battle, he may have lost the war. He knows of at least two other Cold War mongers in the Valley who beat him to the punch by selling chunks of the wall mailed to them by friends or relatives in Germany. Even major department stores are getting into the act. "Looks like a piece of sidewalk," an apathetic shopper sniffed as he eyed the $12.95 nugget being sold at The Broadway prior to the holidays. And there's some evidence that you can't even give the wall away: Last month, when KSLX invited listeners to vie for chunks of the wall purchased from a New York collector, only two people could be bothered to pick up their fudge-sized pieces of concrete.
Does this mean the wall is history in more ways than one? Could be. "The demand has really tapered off now that people have already done their Christmas shopping," says DeVault. Nevertheless, he remains an optimistic fence-straddler. "Even though the wall is old news, I still think it's a major, major deal."