Postcard From...Berlin


The story of Peter Fechter sums up the Cold War's brutality more than most. Fifty years ago this week, the 18-year-old trainee bricklayer was gunned down in a hail of bullets fired by border guards while trying to flee from East Berlin over the city's infamous wall to what was then capitalist West Berlin.

The Berlin Wall had been standing for only 12 months and on 17 August 1962 Peter and his workmate Helmut decided to make a run for freedom.

In the early afternoon they wandered into the no man's land that bordered the fortified and heavily guarded wall in East Berlin. Helmut made a dash for it, but when shots rang out, Peter was paralysed with fear and froze. Helmut made it over the Wall. Peter was shot to pieces. The East German guards could have fired a warning shot or even wounded and then arrested him. Instead they chose to leave him to bleed to death.

Peter Fechter died not far away from the famous Allied crossing point at the Berlin Wall known as Checkpoint Charlie. Nowadays the site is a tourist magnet and the Berlin city government is embroiled in a long-running debate about whether or not to build a Cold War museum on the site. But Peter Fechter's plight was too horrible to warrant much discussion. In 1999, 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a basalt memorial column was erected in Berlin's Zimmerstrasse on the spot where he died. To commemorate this week's 50th anniversary of his death, the Berlin authorities are planning to rename the street after him.