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German word of the day: Der Mauerspecht

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German word of the day: Der Mauerspecht
West Berliners use tools to break down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Photo: DPA
04:53 CET+01:00
On the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we spotlight a word which originates directly from this historical event.

When the Berlin Wall fell 30 years ago, amidst the jubilation and discovery of newfound freedom, many people stopped to take a piece of history with them. Chisel or hammer in hand, thousands chipped away fragments of the wall to keep as souvenirs, to sell or to send to friends and relatives in far flung destinations. 

This action was so common that the stone chippers soon gained a widely used nickname: “Mauerspechte”. The word Mauerspecht literally translates as “wall woodpecker” and officially entered the German dictionary in 1991. 

One famous Mauerspecht was former French President Nikolas Sarkozy, who, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, shared a picture of himself on social media chiseling at the Wall in November 1989.  

Where in the World is the Wall Today?

Around 1.5 kilometers of wall remain standing in Berlin to this day and countless other shards can be found encased in glass domes or displayed as knick-knacks in numerous Berlin gift shops. If you search for a “Berliner Mauer Stück” (Berlin wall piece) on eBay, you will still find plenty of “original” wall pieces ranging from tiny shards to meter high blocks of concrete for sale throughout Germany. 

A section of the Wall displayed along Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Photo: DPA

Pieces from the rest of the almost 160-kilometer long Wall can be found scattered throughout the globe: from the front of the EU Commission building in Brussels to a urinal in a Las Vegas casino, parts of the wall are popular art pieces all over the world.

In their project “Freedom Rocks”, Canadian artists Blake Fitzpatrick and Vid Ingelevics documented the movement of segments of the Wall from Berlin to North America in photos and video footage.

The artists noted a stark difference in motivation and meaning between the larger “trophy slabs” of wall, which are on display in many public buildings throughout America and Canada, and the smaller shards which the owners treasure for having a personal meaning or particular individual significance.  

 
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