Row over grave of revolutionary Rudi

Click to follow
A ROUGH-HEWN granite tombstone bearing the name of Rudi Dutschke is the only reminder in Berlin of the revolutionary who famously brought class war to the city's streets, and who paid the ultimate price for his zeal. The student leader, whose near-fatal shooting in 1968 triggered riots across West Germany, died of his wounds 11 years later and has rested in peace in a pretty churchyard ever since.

The two decades since his death are an eternity by the standards of Berlin's accelerated clock. In the intervening years the Cold War has expired and the minefields have sprouted skyscrapers. More importantly for Rudi, the leasehold on the scarce piece of real estate occupied by his bones is about to run out. According to the city's rules, after 20 years everyone, including the post-Marxist philosopher who came to believe in the afterlife, must make way for the newly departed.

Such indignity can be avoided. The city can declare Dutschke's grave a "tomb of honour", take over over the cost of maintenance from the parish church of St Anne's in the well-heeled district of Dahlem, and the student leader's tranquillity is assured. Other graves in the cemetery, including two occupied by Nobel Prize winners, already enjoy this privilege.

This is the solution proposed by the Greens, the successors of the anarchic groups which sprung up in West Berlin in the 1960s. As custodians of the student rebellions of 1968, they have tabled a modest motion - three paragraphs in all - at the regional parliament. The proposal has had an explosive impact on the city's political life.

"A tomb of honour would be merely a symbolic gesture," explains Alice Strover, the motion's Green proposer. "An official honour bestowed by Berlin would serve as a gesture of reconciliation." Fat chance. Ms Strover attended Dutschke's funeral in 1979, but is too young to remember the mayhem wrought by the student leader in his heyday.

Dutschke was shot in April 1968 by a right-wing house painter, allegedly unhinged by anti-revolutionary propaganda in the tabloid press. The Greens think Berlin should now pay homage to the ideals of the student uprising of 1968, thus making amends for the "lynching mood" whipped up by West Berlin's political masters at the time. If the motion, supported by the Social Democrats and the East's Party of Democratic Socialism, goes through, the regional government will have to pay for the grave.

But the mere suggestion of rendering any honour on Dutschke sends Berlin's largest coalition partner into a rage. "I don't think Berlin should pay for this," says Uwe Lehmann-Brauns, a Christian Democrat member of the regional assembly. His party runs the city in tandem with the Social Democrats, so that controversy over Dutschke's remains could have grave consequences for the stability of the administration.

"This honour is normally bestowed on someone who has done something for the city," Mr Lehmann-Brauns adds. "But Rudi Dutschke wanted to abolish parliamentary democracy. His slogan was: `Americans out of West Berlin.' If that had happened we would have been swallowed up by the Soviet Union within a year."

Mr Lehmann-Brauns suggests that any number of left-wing foundations could renew the lease, as indeed could Dutschke's widow, Gretchen, who lives in the US. But Gretchen Dutschke is supporting the Green proposal, presumably because a "tomb of honour" would be a gateway for her deceased husband into the pantheon of eternal fame. Dutschke's grave in Dahlem would vie with the concrete slab of Karl Marx that draws tourists to Highgate cemetery. The Greens, the arrivistes of Dutschke's "long march through the institutions", would at last have a monument of their own, and relics to worship.

At St Anne's, officials point out that the lease does not run out until the end of the year, and can easily be renewed by a relative willing to pay a few hundred marks. They place flowers on the grave every day, hoping that the dust will settle soon. The motion comes up for a vote in May.

Comments