Bryan Berg, a professional card stacker and Guinness World Record Holder, is building 10 free standing Baltimore and DC landmarks made of playing cards. Berg's stacking cards at Horseshoe Casinos in Baltimore. (Kevin Richardson)

Eighty-one thousand cards, 10 monuments, one man.

Bryan Berg, who holds the Guinness world records for tallest and largest freestanding houses of cards, is at Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore until June 19, creating replicas of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., landmarks completely out of playing cards — no glue, tape or tricks allowed.


The card houses — or monuments, in this case — are set up in a glass box on the ground floor in the area next to the slot machines. Until his projected completion date this weekend, passersby can watch Berg stack, and his monuments will stay up until the end of July, said Dave Curley, a spokesman for the casino.

Berg, 41, will use 1,500 decks of cards for 10 monuments, including Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Bank of America building, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument on the National Mall and the Capitol.

So far, he says his favorite building in the exhibit is the Jefferson Memorial, which he had a few close calls with while working on other structures.

"I bumped the platform two or three times in about an hour period while working on another tower, because I kept forgetting it was there," Berg said. "I had a few big gasps and had to freeze. If you bump it hard enough the whole thing could fall. Luckily, not even one fell because of my clumsiness. So far, at least."

During a few visits by The Sun, patrons seemed more intent on playing the slot machines or visiting the bar than watching the cards, but nonetheless, Berg toiled on.

Jimmy Whitehead, 59, said he was impressed by the structure's appearance and Berg's work.

"It's pretty cool and creative. I wonder how he does those," the Baltimore resident said. "There's a nice illusion to it. It's definitely appropriate for the area."

The glass wall that separates casino visitors from Berg and his cards isn't there to stop a "breeze or a sneeze," Berg said. The card buildings are surprisingly strong, thanks to his unique stacking strategy.

Rather than constructing the triangular shapes typical of amateur card stackers, he prefers a square honeycomb formation, which he compares to a waffle. Side by side, hundreds of these chambers create a collective strength, Berg said.

The glass wall instead protects the cards from freak occurrences — like the squirrel that jumped onto Berg's replica of Cinderella's Castle, commissioned by Disney, and knocked over the entire castle gateway, or the runaway motorized scooter that nearly toppled a card building to the ground, he said.

"I'm so lucky to do what I love and get paid for it," Berg said, "but it can be really stressful at times. Some things are totally out of your control, and you're already doing everything you can to make it work."

Berg, who lives in Santa Fe, N.M., remembers sitting on his grandfather's lap and watching as he stacked cards three or four stories high, his first exposure to card stacking.

"It seems almost trivial now, but as a very young boy, I think it was probably one of the most influential things in my life, honestly," he said. "I'd never seen anyone do that — how was he creating stories-high buildings out of just playing cards?"

Fast forward a few years and Berg had picked up card stacking as a hobby, which then led to an interest in architecture, he said. He graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in the subject, before earning a master's from Harvard University in design studies.


And through it all, he continued stacking, pioneering ways of building bigger, taller and better structures.

After setting the world record for tallest freestanding house of cards in 1992 at the age of 17, Berg broke his own record more than a dozen times. His current record is 25 feet, 97/16 inches. In 2004, the record for largest playing card structure was created in recognition of his work on Cinderella's Castle. He beat this record in 2007 and currently holds this record with a structure that measured about 34 feet long, 9 feet tall and 12 inches wide.

What buildings does he dream of creating in cards? The Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, Ancient Rome's Colosseum and three Great Pyramids in Egypt.

Plus, he still has his world records to beat. With enough ceiling space, time and, of course, cards, Berg is confident he could build a hundred-foot tall tower.

For now, he has his five remaining Baltimore and Washington monuments left to complete: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore's Washington Monument, the National Aquarium, Lincoln Memorial and the White House. And he hopes he'll be around to knock his buildings down in the end (usually done with a leaf blower), proving to people that there really weren't any tricks involved. It's all cards and skill.

"I've learned by making each project kind of a crash test dummy that everything I think is fragile isn't really that fragile," he said. "It helps you realize that even though you thought you were toward the limit, that you really weren't. You can always keep pushing that limit."