WEST BERLIN -- For the past two weeks, the city has rung with the sound of woodpeckers, in reality they're wallpeckers, tapping out the last pieces of the Berlin Wall. All this activity because, after this week, quoth the mayor, "Nevermore."
On June 14, West Berlin Mayor Walter Momper announced that he wanted the wall down as of today, the day East and West German currencies are unified. Momper will not leave it there to be picked at until even the dust is gone. He wants it out of the way now.
The prickly problem of who would take it down was settled before Momper's June 14 announcement. Negotiations had been going on since November between East and West, and it was decided that since East Germany put it up, at $60 million a mile, East Germany should take it down. It will be used for road gravel.
The prodigious task is increased by the dimensions of it. The wall is not one but two walls with a "death zone" of land mines and booby traps in between. There are at least 69 miles of double wall and enough barbed wire to circle the globe almost twice.
Tourists and entrepreneurs did not wait for Momper's demolition order. They have been driving, flying and running to the wall with hammers and chisels -- or renting the tools from hawkers at the wall for $3. The less ambitious buy pieces of the wall (some bogus) from nearby stalls.
We visited the wall at Bernauer Street and witnessed the last-minute rush of chiseling. Scenes that would have been extraordinary a year ago are becoming routine. A high-school girl climbed the 13-foot wall on the toeholds created by the scavengers and then couldn't get down. She uttered obscenities until a patient East Berlin border guard -- the same guard who might have shot her for climbing the wall a year ago -- arrived with a ladder and helped her down, with a scolding for risking her life and limb.
The souvenir collectors are mostly tourists. East and West Berliners aren't particularly interested in saving a piece of the monstrosity that hemmed them in and out.
Some were tearful as they recalled Aug. 13, 1961, when they woke up to a prison of barbed wire. An apartment building became part of the wall and when East German police arrived to seal the windows, desperate tenants began leaping to freedom in the West. West Berlin firemen rigged safety nets, but four people died from the fall.
One father saw his son land safely in a net, and then jumped himself and broke his spine.
Lost forever is the huge evangelical church, consecrated in 1894, that wound up in the no man's land when Berlin was divided. The East Germans tolerated the church for years until it was used to screen a few escape attempts. Finally, in 1985, they blew it up with dynamite.
Ironically, it was the Church of Reconciliation. As former parishioners walked over the grass where the church used to be, they spoke of a need for reconciliation between East and West -- a task that will require as much spiritual strength as economic subsidies.