The Berlin Wall was a potent symbol of the Cold War, 100 miles of concrete finally torn down in 1989.
Some of it was recycled or placed in museums around the world. Collectors own bits and pieces, and some are on eBay.
But perhaps the biggest collection is right here in the Tampa Bay area.
On Thursday, members of the Outdoor Arts Foundation unloaded an estimated 130 pieces of the wall, the first of several shipments.
"We've researched this project for a year and a half, and as far as we know, this is the largest private collection in the world," said Jay Goulde, executive director of the nonprofit foundation that secured the purchase.
"This isn't just a bunch of concrete, this is history," he said. "It represents the Cold War, oppression and segregation. When it came down, it became the quintessential symbol of freedom and democracy."
The foundation is planning a series of Berlin Wall projects locally and nationwide through 2014.
The total collection consists of 350, 8-by-3-foot unpainted sections, believed to have come from the vicinity of Checkpoint Charlie, a military crossing station. They were salvaged by a German statesman, Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt, founder and former director of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. Each of these sections weighs about 800 pounds.
Also included are about 100 smaller fragmented pieces, weighing between 75 and 300 pounds and painted by Russian artists in 1990 to celebrate the reunification of Germany.
The group was delighted to discover some surprise packages in Thursday's shipment: 24 framed original photographs documenting historical moments and a slab painted by legendary pop artist Robert Indiana.
Jack Jawitz, a Bradenton resident and foundation supporter, was astonished as the collection was unfurled.
"This is such a unique vehicle to teach the next generation about the history of the Cold War. I can't wait to get started," he said.
Just like in the spy novels and movies inspired by the Berlin Wall, the foundation is storing the remnants in a clandestine location for now.
Even the benefactor is anonymous; foundation members would only say it was one of their supporters. The foundation's mission is to share art in public places, and two displays of the painted walls are planned for this fall.
The collection was appraised at $2.5-million in 1999 by the New York firm of OK Harris. This year, a scientific research firm, the CTL Group, analyzed the concrete and determined its authenticity.
Funds generated from the Berlin Wall projects will help benefit the Outdoor Arts Foundation and help bring public art projects to the Tampa Bay area, Goulde said.
The idea for the project began when the collection's former owner, a Florida resident, contacted the foundation with the intent to broker the sale.
"We decided we didn't want to broker it, we wanted to acquire it," Goulde said.
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at email@example.com.
PLANS FOR THE COLLECTION
The Berlin Wall art collection: Inspired by the reunification of Germany, Russian artists painted fragmented sections of the wall. Fifty pieces will be exhibited at Reeves Import Motorcars in Tampa on Sept. 26 and the other 50 will be on display at Syd Entel Galleries in Safety Harbor in late October.
The Berlin Wall commemorative monuments: 100 Berlin Wall monuments are planned for installation throughout North America. The first will be located in the Tampa Bay area.
20 for 20: 20th anniversary exhibit featuring 20 18-by-18-inch sections painted by Tampa Bay area artists and displayed in 2009.
The Cold War national monument: A portion of the proceeds from the Outdoor Arts Foundation's Berlin Wall projects will go to design and construction of a Cold War monument in Washington, D.C.
Beyond the Wall: Freedom, Art and Reflection: 25 artists from around the world will paint 25 wall sections. The exhibit will travel the globe over two years beginning in 2011.
The Berlin Wall experience: A collection of stories, photographs and memorabilia assembled into a coffee table book; it is to be released on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. Proceeds will benefit the Outdoor Arts Foundation.
For more information about the Berlin Wall Projects, visit www.outdoorartsfoundation.com.