Wednesday, October 3, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A Piece Of The Wall Is For Seattle Center

States News Service

WASHINGTON - As champagne popped, hands grasped and the maps were redrawn to reflect one Germany last night, the largest remaining U.S. slice of the once-massive Berlin Wall stood surrounded by silent onlookers across from the Capitol.

The wall slab belongs to Seattle, and it took a Louisiana Democrat to bring it to Washington, D.C., as a testimony to German reunification for a ceremony tomorrow with top congressional leaders.

A bright-red ladder climbs 13 feet on the former West German side - through fields of yellow, two eerie eyes, green painted bricks, red peace signs and angry black swirls - to the top of the wall that once divided two Germanys.

The former East German side of the wall - separated for years by barbed wire, manned gun turrets and a no man's land of mine fields - is blank.

The three-ton slab, where a number of East Germans reportedly were killed while attempting to cross to the West, is nicknamed ``Bloody Erich'' for former Communist East German leader Erich Honecker, who gave the orders to shoot.

Considering it trash, a West German businessman bought the slab for a pittance when the city of Berlin gave orders to demolish the wall last winter. Construction companies were crushing the wall to reuse as masonry. At the same time, fast-moving entrepreneurs were busy selling bricks and chips from the wall for souvenirs.

Hamburg businessman Achim Becker, who mints rare bullion coins commemorating the reunification, then shipped the slab to Seattle in August to display at the American Numismatic Association's annual convention.

Tucked away in a corner, the wall didn't stir much attention from the 20,000 rare-coin collectors at the convention until officials at Seattle's German Consulate persuaded Becker to donate the wall remnant to the city.

Seattle Center director Virginia Anderson said she was given 30 minutes to decide whether she wanted the wall permanently.

``It was first thought the wall would go to the Parks Department,'' she said, ``but there was concern that with less security it might get vandalized. Everyone wants a piece of the Berlin Wall, and they've seen people on TV chipping away at it.''

Anderson said it has not been decided whether to display the 4-foot-wide slab outside on the 74-acre grounds or to display it permanently inside the Pacific Science Center.

But before the wall was moved to its more permanent home at the Center, Rep. Jimmy Hayes, D-La., said he ``stole it.''

Hayes, an avid coin collector, attended the coin convention in Seattle and decided the wall should come to the nation's Capitol during the week of German unification.

``The emotion I feel traces back to when I was a freshman in high school and watched Jack Kennedy's `I am a Berliner' address,'' Hayes said, referring to the former president's stirring speech at the wall, where he said ``Ich bin ein Berliner.''

``And to imagine that I would grow up to become a member of Congress and help people see a part of the wall after it was dismantled is one of the more fulfilling moments of public service I've had,'' Hayes said.

Boxed in a crate and chained to a flatbed truck, the wall slab made the 3,000-mile coast-to-coast trip along with crates of industrial freight.

West German-born Henner Krueger, director of aviation for the Seattle-based Danzas Corp., said the round trip would cost about $5,000 - about the same as it will cost to load and unload the slab with a crane and set it in front of the Longworth House Office Building across from the Capitol.

The spot was chosen in part by House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Spokane, because the wall is too heavy to sit inside any of the buildings. The fragment also is too heavy to sit atop underground parking garages.

For Krueger, who never saw the Berlin Wall in his country but popped champagne when the wall came down last November, moving the wall moved him to tears.

The Seattle Center's Anderson reacted similarly.

``I think of two things,'' she said. ``The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 at the same time when the Seattle Center was being built for a very different reason - the World's Fair. And Seattle just finished hosting the Goodwill Games - the last time the Germanys will compete under two different flags.

``To us, the wall is a memorial to those things, and the fact that the world is changing.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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