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As a keepsake for my traveling in Germany, I would like to take a pebble from the Berlin Wall-is it illegal (or perhaps frowned upon) to do so? I'm aware that they sell (presumably fake) pieces in gift shops, however to me that would defeat the purpose. Moreover, I'm not entirely sure where to go to actually get a piece (I assume museums are protective of their assets).

EDIT: Thanks @Fiksdal for the answer - while the answer for this question may be fairly obvious, it seems like the legality has flexed over time (as @Jan pointed out, now people are too late to partake in it).

Perhaps even more importantly, when you Google 'Is it illegal to take a piece of the Berlin Wall', nothing useful shows up (save now for this question)

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Edit: The new answer by Jack is quite excellent! However, unless doing something like that, then:

There was a lot of leftover debris while the Berlin Wall was being demolished. That, however, was a long time ago and parts of the Berlin Wall are now being intentionally maintained* as a historical monument. Therefore, removing pieces of it without permission can now only be described as vandalism.

Vandalism is a crime in Germany and punishable by fines, and/or anything from a few weeks to two years of imprisonment (depending on seriousness and history) according to German Penal Code (§ 303 StGB).

Also, as @PeterM says in a comment, you may consider it just a "pebble", but this is an important historical monument, and it could easily be partly ruined if (hundreds of) thousands of tourists took a small piece each over the decades. Also, different people may have different opinions on what constitutes a "small piece".




I've been asked in several comments to explain why I consider removing pieces from the Berlin Wall to be vandalism.
The definition of vandalism is:

The act of deliberately destroying or damaging property.

Looking at this definition, I think it's self-explanatory that whenever you remove a part of any structure without permission, then that's vandalism. In the case of the Berlin Wall, it's also probably serious, because there's a risk that a large number of people will do it. That is, of course, not to mention the fact that the Berlin Wall is one of Europe's most important historical monuments, and carefully maintained as such. (At least parts of it.)

* = If you seek out one of the obscure parts of the wall (these may not be considered monuments, I'm not sure) you may find a piece of it that's already broken off and lying on the ground next to it. Maybe you could somehow manage to confirm that this was indeed once a part of the wall. Given such a lucky find, picking it up and taking it might not be illegal. Anyway, instead of going through all that trouble (confirmation, etc.), Jack's answer is probably a safer bet.

Related: How can I determine if there's a way I can legally take home a piece of a particular landmark?

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There is a hotel in Berlin that lets you chip away your own pieces of the wall and take them with you as part of a package deal. So there do still exist legal options for you to take your own piece home.

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    But do they provide a David Hasselhoff soundtrack to properly get you into that late-80s/early-90s Germany vibe? – Graham Sep 2 '16 at 12:17
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    @Graham Unless this is the case, then this answer should be deleted as "very low quality" or "not an answer", IMO. – Revetahw Sep 2 '16 at 12:45
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    @Fiksdal who would travel to Berlin without bringing their own David Hasselhoff soundtrack? Some essential travel equipment just goes without saying: if hiking, bring appropriate shoes; if going to Berlin, bring the Hoff. – user568458 Sep 2 '16 at 12:49
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    More generally, considering the size of the wall before its deconstruction, I am sure many of the souvenir pieces sold in tourist shops are genuine. – Patricia Shanahan Sep 2 '16 at 15:19
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    Plus, the package comes with "Berlin-style curried sausage and a glass of Champagne", which is the most un-currywurst-ish way I've ever seen to describe currywurst. – E.P. Sep 4 '16 at 17:11
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This contradicts travel etiquette more generally. (Barring some more specific local ethic saying it's okay, but that doesn't seem to exist here). The ethic is known as Leave No Trace (wikipedia) and is developed for respecting the outdoors, but in my opinion, perfectly well applies here.

Taking a pebble or stick or leaf when on "sacred" grounds, whether it be a historical monument or a U.S. national park, is in violation of this ethic. Historical monuments should be preserved for hundreds or thousands of years and enjoyed by thousands or millions of people. "Taking a pebble" is simply unsustainable at that scale.

The issue is not whether there are enough pebbles to cover all the ravenous tourists. The issue is that tourists are engaging in the "take" ethic in the first place, and in seeking something for yourself special that you alone can enjoy, you are, naturally, seeking something that others cannot take. The pebble is an interesting example because it apparently is unique and hard to obtain, but subtle enough that maybe a tourist can get away with taking one. If pebbles were okay to take, you would know that already. It would be in the tour books or notated at the exhibit, and, possibly, be no more special to you than a photograph.

So, kudos to you for researching this cautiously. I just want to emphasize that the most general answer is don't do it, barring specific permissions from the local authority responsible for preserving the site.

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    Very good answer - while it doesn't speak to the legality of this specific question, I'll be more mindful when traveling of the greater consequences. – schil227 Sep 2 '16 at 6:55
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    I have a question regarding taking a leaf from US National parks, not sure if it's worth it's own question. Are you saying I can not take a fallen leaf of the ground at a US National Park? – Summer Sep 2 '16 at 11:05
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    @JaneDoe1337 I really, really, really doubt anyone will care if you take a leaf from a U.S. national park. However, you should avoid taking bison. – reirab Sep 2 '16 at 15:10
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    @reirab Darn, that was just what I was after. ;) – Summer Sep 2 '16 at 15:11
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    @JaneDoe1337 no, you definitely shouldn't. You shouldn't be trying to find sufficiently minute things to take from parks in the first place. – djechlin Sep 2 '16 at 17:38
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The gift shop at the Checkpoint Charlie / Berlin Wall museum sells small chunks of the wall in various forms (e.g. encased in plastic at the end of a bookmark) for reasonable prices, like a couple Euros (at least in 2005 when I was there). I'm possibly mis-remembering which gift-shop I got the bookmark from; I gave it as a gift so I don't still have it.

The museum is worth a visit; there's some neat stuff ranging from homebrew radios to Stalin propaganda. Also stuff about the various iterations of the wall, and news reports of the first person to attempt to escape, and other notable things.

Also very cool was a tour of a sentry tower, but this was a private individual who (IIRC) was the brother of the first person to be killed trying to escape East Berlin after the wall went up. He didn't speak much English, but apparently spends some of his time passing on the history of the place to tourists. I got the impression that this was just something he does personally, not getting paid for it by a museum or anything. This was 10 years ago, and he wasn't a young guy then.


Back to the souvenirs: At the higher end of the price range, there were paper weights (again clear plastic) with bigger chunks (larger than pebble size). The chunks all had a piece of the surface visible, usually with some graffiti, so you could tell it wasn't just any random pebble.

If you really wanted the bare chunk, you could just buy a bookmark and crack the plastic. Or maybe find a different tourist shop than the one I visited, if this isn't unique to that museum.

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I really hate the "if everyone does it there will be nothing left" answers. That's just ignorant. If everyone on the earth passed gas in the same direction at the same time we could create a weather system that destroys the planet also, but that will never happen either.

To answer the question, yes, you can get in trouble if you take a piece. If you get caught. And if the guy that sees you doing it really cares. Which he/she won't. Worst case they'll make you put it back. Reality vs Liberalism. Should you take a piece? No. Will you go to jail for the rest of your life if you do? Probably not.

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    –1 for the first half of your answer. +1 for the second half. Oops, that cancels out, sorry. – Jan Sep 4 '16 at 22:58
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    @JoeBlow Actually, OP asks whether it's "illegal", not whether it's possible to get away with it. So I don't agree that this really answers the question. – Revetahw Sep 5 '16 at 11:49
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    You're first para is nonsense. "Everybody" in this sense doesn't mean everybody in the world doing some implausible task. it simply means if all (or even a significant fraction) of the visitors did this, it would be very destructive. Think of the serious problems that say, Paris has had with locks + Bridges for example. – CMaster Sep 5 '16 at 13:59
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    Very reasonable viewpoint. Could you leave your address so that I can show you that I am not ignorant by picking some small souvenir from your house ? – Thorsten S. Sep 12 '16 at 22:23
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    That answer is the one that seems ignorant… The universalizability argument has a distinguished history going back at least to Kant. It can be refined and debated of course but ignorant it is not. And in that particular case, the possibility of real damage does not seem far-fetched, intuitively speaking. – Relaxed Sep 18 '16 at 8:28

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