EAST BERLIN -- More than 1,000 doctors have left East Germany for West Germany since the opening of the Berlin Wall last November. They were lured by the possibility of earning up to $5,000 a month.
Now, ironically, pieces of the wall are helping the dedicated doctors who remain behind to keep their struggling hospitals running.
That is why, when we toured a children's hospital in East Berlin recently, the doctors were full of gratitude for rich American souvenir hunters, including Nancy Reagan.
In an unusual venture, a state-run export company has teamed up with a West Berlin business to sell prime pieces of the wall to the former first lady, among others, and give the money to hospitals. Everybody and his brother has a chip or chunk from the wall, but this new venture is selling the last of the large sections with the coveted graffiti.
Not long after the wall came down, the new government declared that "official" pieces would be sold and the proceeds used for urgently needed modernization of public health services.
While the communists ran East Germany for 40 years, they never pumped enough money into hospitals to keep up with Western standards.
The six-floor "Kinderclinic" we visited was considered the finest in the country, a showcase for the communist system. But it at least 10 years behind Western hospitals. The only relatively modern equipment we saw was donated by an Ohio hospital or bought with the Berline Wall proceeds.
The wall pieces are being marketed by a state-owned trade enterprise called Limex and a new private company called LeLe Berlin Wall. Co-owners Judith LaCroix and Christian Herms already have given $625,000 in wall money to hospitals.
Limex and LeLe could have had all the pieces they wanted. But, they decided to treat the wall like fine art, reckoning that a limited edition print is work more than a mass produced copy. They chose 360 sections of the wall with the best graffiti, including the work of some well-known graffiti artists. The rest of the wall, which has not yet been picked over and chipped off by do-it-yourself collectors, will become road base.
These are not pieces sell for casual souvenir hunters. The pieces sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
Word quickly spread among art collectors, and they gathered last week in Monte Caro for an auction of 81 pieces by Limex and LeLe Berlin Wall.
Before the auction, LaCroix confided to us, discriminating buyers already had spoken for some of the best pieces. Actor Gene Hackman spent several days in Berline making his selection.
First Lady Nancy Reagan showed her famous penchant for pickiness. She wanted a section in soft colors, with graffiti (but not obscenities) and preferably with a message about freedom. She ended up with a section spray painted in blues and greens with part of a butterfly winging its way to the top and the German word for freedom. She ended up with a section spray painted in blues and greens with part of a butterfly winging its way to the top and the German word for freedom sprayed on the piece. It will go in the Reagan presidential library where presumably Ronald Reagan will take some credit for the downfall of communism.