Does Hawaii have a state sign

Sign of another time

    A house in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, five minutes' drive from Sunset Boulevard. From the terrace, if one of the hills did not block the view, one could see the world-famous letters of the "Hollywood" sign, they are only a few kilometers away as the crow flies. Much closer, however, is a sign that is just as famous and undoubtedly steeped in history. Because in the garage of the house of Alan Wolan, the 50-year-old owner of an advertising agency, there is the "You are leaving the American Sector" sign from Checkpoint Charlie, which marked the border crossing on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin for 29 years. Wolan and three friends stole it in the summer of 1990.

    How did this historical sign, the material symbol of the Cold War next to the Wall, get to California, almost 10,000 kilometers away? Has it not been in the museum for almost 25 years, as a prominent exhibit of the public memory of German reunification? Anyone visiting the "Haus am Checkpoint Charlie" today, the overflowing exhibition that has the authority to represent the events at the Berlin border crossings in Berlin, can also see the four-language billboard in a special room, originally mounted on wooden posts a good two meters high. According to the museum, it is the original sign that stood there until early 1991. "It was handed over to us by the American military administration a few months after Checkpoint Charlie was closed in June 1990," says Alexandra Hildebrandt, the current director. She never heard of a theft. (A small "16" is attached to the lower left edge of the sign in the museum, an identifier that will still play a role in this detective game of contemporary history.)

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    Alan Wolan worked directly at Checkpoint Charlie in the early summer of 1990. There he runs a shop for Berlin T-shirts and packaged wall fragments. “On November 9, 1989, when I saw the pictures from Germany on television in New York,” he says, “I decided to go there. It was clear to me that thousands of tourists would come to Berlin in the coming year. The store would be a gold mine. ”He was in his mid-twenties at the time, quit his job in an advertising agency, moved to Berlin, to a small apartment in Neukölln, and after a long search found a store on the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Kochstrasse, im
    unused adjoining room of a Turkish bakery. His business concept works: With his reunification souvenirs, he earns a small fortune within a few months.

    On June 22, the ceremonial dismantling of the border post took place practically in front of Alan Wolan's shop door, in the presence of the four Allied Foreign Ministers. The historical control barracks will be removed by crane (and is now exhibited in the Allied Museum in Dahlem). When the festivities, an important symbolic step on the way to the unity of Berlin and Germany, are over on that day, the epicenter of the Cold War, the border crossing for foreigners and diplomats, is orphaned on its western side. No American soldier guards the lock that divided not only the Berlin districts of Mitte and Kreuzberg, but also two world systems. Alan Wolan has a little longer to do in his shop, and when he discovers that the billboard, unlike the border post, has not yet been removed, an insane idea takes shape in his head.

    “Soon after the store opened, I'd toyed with the idea: wouldn't it be great to have this sign? I don't know why it survived the ceremony unscathed. ”The historian Florian Weiß, responsible for America at the Allied Museum, explains this riddle by saying that the border post was planned all too hastily at the time, as part of a foreign ministers meeting at short notice. The inclusion of the shield in the ceremonial dismantling was probably simply forgotten. In any case, Alan Wolan gets a few saws in the hardware store shortly before the shop closes and rents a van from Robben & Wientjes. Then he telephones his German girlfriend and an acquaintance who supplies him with T-shirts; he tells them that the long announced idea could now become a reality. "We sat around in pubs until late in the evening, Dörte, Matthias, his girlfriend Kirsten and me." At some point they drive off through Kreuzberg to Friedrichstrasse, park the van on the corner of Zimmerstrasse and unpack their tools.

    “It took maybe 15 minutes to saw it off. Everything went smoothly - except that in between we suddenly saw that two young GDR soldiers were approaching us from the eastern part of the border post, which was still occupied. ”They hide the saws, pretending to be American tourists on a nightly trip Walk, and actually manage to hide their action. When Wolan and his “partners in crime”, as he still calls them today, are finished, they load the massive wooden board into the van and drive it to Kirsten. Your apartment is the least elevated, on the first floor. The sign is there for the first time before the four carry it up to Alan's apartment under the roof. Here, in a messy garage in Los Angeles, 25 years later and 10,000 kilometers away, you can see for yourself on the spot how difficult this work must have been. Two people can hardly lift the sign.

    In fact, trying to discover official traces of that night leads nowhere.

    The number “16” on the left shows that the sign, which is now the original in the building at Checkpoint Charlie, must have been attached later.

    For almost a quarter of a century, one of the landmarks of the division of Germany has been withdrawn from the official culture of remembrance. Hardly anyone has noticed this loophole since then. In online forums of militaria collectors the persistent rumor can be found that a young American stole the Checkpoint Charlie sign in 1990, and in 2000 Alan Wolan even gave an interview under a pseudonym to a German journalist, with a Ronald -Reagan mask on the face. But this incident is not mentioned in the official history of Checkpoint Charlie and its dissolution. Wolan and his friends say that the American military responsible until October 3, 1990 did not want to make the theft public. "A new sign was put on the very next day," remembers Matthias, who now lives as an art dealer in Hawaii and immediately has the details of that night ready when an unannounced phone call is made. But he would rather not read his last name in the newspaper because he is still unsure whether he could be prosecuted by the German or American judiciary for the crime.

    In fact, the attempt to discover official traces of that night on June 23, 1990 leads nowhere. Neither the Senate Administration nor the police or journalists who wrote about Checkpoint Charlie at the time know anything about theft. In the archives of West Berlin newspapers - Daily mirror, taz, B.Z., Berliner Morgenpost - there is no line above a sawed-off notice board. Nevertheless, the evidence is weighty that Alan Wolan is telling the truth and that his sign was more likely than the museum copy at Checkpoint Charlie at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The details of the story, which Alan and Matthias tell independently after 25 years, are too similar to be based on an invention. And then there are the numbers at the bottom left that make the information boards identifiable.

    Each sign along the borders of the American sector in West Berlin was assigned its own number. "The count started at Potsdamer Platz," says Florian Weiß. The Checkpoint Charlie sign usually had the "4" on the lower left, as you can see in close-ups of historical amateur films YouTube but also on old newspaper clippings in the "Haus am Checkpoint Charlie" itself. From time to time, however, when the sign had to be replaced after being smeared or excessively worn, blank signs without numbers were temporarily hung up from the stock of the US military authorities. Also between November 1989 and June 1990, as evidenced by tourist videos YouTube, the Checkpoint Charlie sign had no number. This must be Alan Wolan's copy. Because the wooden plaque in the garage also has no marking on the lower left edge. Finally, the copy with the little "16", which is now in the "Haus am Checkpoint Charlie" as an original, is probably the one that was tacitly put up after the night of June 23, 1990. At least in all the years between 1961 and June 1990 there was never a billboard at this place with the number 16.

    The historical testimony of things is therefore more complex than expected. Neither the official museum nor Alan Wolan really owns the original Checkpoint Charlie sign because there have been several copies over the years; For example, where the last sign with the number 4 remained cannot be reconstructed today. If the state of the city in the eleven months between the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification was already characterized by excessive administrative demands, then this also applied to the lack of attention to securing and precise identification of the most important landmarks of the turning point.

    Alan Wolan has treated his shield like a treasure for the last 24 years, both symbolically and in a purely material sense. When he moved back to New York in 1994 (after further lucrative years as a souvenir dealer and owner of a hot dog stand on Schönhauser Allee), he had it shipped across the Atlantic in a container. In 2010, it comes in the moving van to its new home in Los Angeles, where Wolan lives with his second wife and a young daughter; the delivery note of the transport company is still stuck to the foil in which the sign in the garage is usually wrapped.

    Wolan speculates a little on selling the historical souvenir for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall next year for a large sum of money to a museum or a private collector. This goal, says Matthias in Hawaii, they had already set their sights on the day of the theft; they were both businessmen, not romantic adventurers. "Back then, the campaign was supposed to be a kind of retirement provision for us," says the art dealer in Hawaii, "we all four gave each other the word of honor that night that we would split the sales price fairly." Alan and Matthias are above all of them Stayed in sporadic contact for years; Dörte, who now lives in New Zealand, is also at least a Facebook friend. Only Kirsten no longer has any connection; she is said to have married and is the only member of the gang of four who still live in Berlin under a new name.

    How much money would you have to offer Alan for his shield so that he would part with him after so many years? "Back then, we said we wouldn't sell it under a quarter of a million dollars." And if there isn't a reasonable offer, he says, he simply hangs the famous Checkpoint Charlie sign over the sofa in his newly renovated living room. Then it would probably never leave the American sector again.

    Photos: Getty; Sabina McGrew
    , Ralf Zimmermann