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When I left America on February 2, 1990, for the land of Sauerkraut, I never expected to get anywhere near the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate, or East Germany. Two months and four days later I found myself, hammer in hand, at the dividing line between to Germany’s.

When an invitation came from a German family I had met to accompany them and their American exchange student to the other side of the Wall, I seized my chance and packed my bags.

Our first day in Berlin we spent sightseeing, awed by the huge stone structure separating the Eastern section of the city from its Western brother. The desire to leave Berlin possessing a small chunk of this international landmark consumed Lydia, my fellow American exchange student, and me. Not only did I want to show it to people back home, I also wanted a tangible reminder of the drab and dreary history that was becoming visibly brighter every day.

Our time in East Berlin was limited. With so much to see, how could we possibly get a piece of the Wall, too? Although street vendors sat selling colorful, graffitied chunks for inflated prices, the Wall itself stood less than 100 yards away. The decision was ours, and we chose to chisel. Our resolution led us from one end of Berlin to the other in search of a proper tool.

Every salesclerk of every store we entered responded negatively to our request for a hammer. Before we knew it, we wound up 45 minutes into the heart of Berlin, still hammerless. Revived by cheap wieners and greasy fries, we continued like troopers. Just as discouragement was about to overtake us, we spied a large, promising variety store.

At last, in the tools section hung Berlin’s entire supply of hammers. Apparently, half the city had sought out and bought up every other hammer in town. Surprisingly, once we returned to the demotion area, the sight of our two hammers set a wave of people off to purchase similar tools. A group of rowdy Italians, however, found it easier to charm us into letting them borrow our hammers than to seek out their own. The art and act of sharing only added to the amiable atmosphere developed along the wall.

I hadn’t realized that by hacking away at a 28-year-old, solid concrete barrier, had helped ease some of the pain and resentment harbored in many East German hearts. These people, whose lives the Communists had shattered, showed no animosity towards our presence or our actions. Expecting typically short German tempers, it amazed me when they cheered and applauded and urged us to pound with our weapons even harder. Feeling heroic, we obliged.

With each blow to the wall, I realized the strength of my determination. I had inaugurated and carried out the task of pursuing a goal, and had demonstrated the ability to inquire, in German, yet, as to the location of a tool. I treasure and remember the time and energy we went through to find it. IN American dollars that hammer cost me barely 75 cents, but its sentimentality is priceless.