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When the world watched Peter Fechter die

He just wanted freedom.

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When the world watched Peter Fechter die

He just wanted freedom. That's what it says on the memorial that commemorates his violent death. Only freedom – in other words, that which makes a human being human in the first place. This wish cost him his life, because the SED regime in the GDR could not and would not concede freedom to its subjects.

Shortly after six in the morning on Friday, August 17, 1962, 18-year-old Peter Fechter in Berlin-Weissensee and Helmut Kulbeik, who was the same age, in Berlin-Friedrichshain made their way to the city center. A strenuous day's work lay ahead of the journeyman bricklayer and the concrete worker on the construction site of the former Kaiser Wilhelm Palace on Unter den Linden, which was rebuilt as an institute building for the Humboldt University.

For a few weeks now, Kulbeik and Fechter have been toying with the idea of ​​escaping from East to West Berlin together. They knew that people trying to escape were being shot at at the border and that they could be hit and killed. But since mid-June 1962, when Peter Fechter's application to travel to his older sister Lieselotte, who lived in West Berlin and whom he and his parents had visited regularly before the Wall was built, had been rejected, he had been determined to leave the SED dictatorship.

In the morning Fechter and Kulbeik worked on their construction site. Then two colleagues suggested that they come along for a beer in a nearby pub - it wasn't far from there to the inner-city restricted area. The break was over at around 11:45 a.m. and the four of them made their way back to the Kaiser Wilhelm Palais.

This was an ideal opportunity for Fechter and Kulbeik: Now they could break away without attracting attention. They shouted to their colleagues that they wanted to get cigarettes quickly and then come over. In fact, however, Fechter and Kulbeik turned south, crossed Leipziger Strasse and then reached Schützenstrasse, the last freely accessible parallel street to the closed Zimmerstrasse, which was completely inaccessible because of the border strip.

On their way across Schützenstraße, Fechter and Kubeik noticed both GDR border guards – the border guards responsible for looking into the “back country” noted this. But because the two young men were only having a drink at a greengrocer’s shop, the superior didn’t send out a “patrol patrol” Come on.

Fechter and Kulbeik stood in front of the greengrocer's shop for almost a quarter of an hour, then they walked back down Schützenstrasse and entered the carpentry shop through a long driveway in house number 8, which was partially destroyed in the war. In their dark work clothes, they didn't attract attention. They reached the building at Zimmerstrasse No. 72-74 via a courtyard with some of the windows already bricked up. It was gloomy because the doors and windows were barred.

In the twilight, Fechter and Kulbeik realized that there were large heaps of wood shavings in front of them. Both had the same idea: They could hide here in the immediate vicinity of the border and wait until the employees in the carpentry shop finish work and go into the weekend. Then dare to flee.

They wanted to gather strength for the decisive seconds that lay ahead of them: Only a little more than 15 meters separated them from West Berlin, from freedom. However, on this short stretch they had to overcome a barbed wire fence and the two meter high barrier wall with more barbed wire - and they could only hope that the border guards would not see them, not shoot them or at least not hit them.

Soon after 2 p.m. they dared. They had sweated in the sawdust for almost two hours, now Fechter and Kulbeik climbed out of an improvised skylight at a height of about three meters out of the building onto the sidewalk that had been open to GDR citizens for 369 days, since August 13, 1961 is absolutely inaccessible.

Only now, when they were standing on the sidewalk, did they see that two rolls of barbed wire had been pulled out directly behind the fence. So it wasn't enough to climb the first obstacle; you had to jump from the top of the fence over the rolls of barbed wire onto the asphalt of Zimmerstrasse. Then it was only eight meters to the wall itself, the last barrier before West Berlin - but in front of it there was also barbed wire that you could get caught in; here one would be an easy target for the bullets of the border guards.

This no longer frightened Fechter and Kulbeik, they only knew one direction: to West Berlin, to freedom. They ran straight into the field of vision and thus into the field of fire of the two double sentries standing on either side of them. Peter Fechter ran first, Helmut Kulbeik followed him a few steps behind. It was a few seconds after 2:10 p.m.

Three of the four young men who stood guard at the two closest intersections of the closed Zimmerstrasse with Markgrafenstrasse and Charlottenstrasse pulled the triggers on their Kalashnikovs. More than 30 continuous fire shots left the three barrels within a very short time, 23 from Markgrafenstrasse alone.

While Kulbeik cleverly wound his 1.85 meters through the barbed wire in front of the wall in exactly this short time, then pulled himself up onto the concrete barrier and slid under the Y-shaped barbed wire support to the other side, Fechter did something completely different: He stayed rooted to the ground the East Berlin side of the Wall. "Come on, come on, do it now!" his friend shouted at him.

But exactly the opposite happened: Fechter even started to turn around. Apparently he was shocked that the shots were actually fired. Kulbeik reached West Berlin soil with minor injuries and sprinted to safety. Peter Fechter had a completely different experience. Although only one of the 7.62 mm caliber steel-core projectiles fired hit him, it penetrated his entire lower body, causing him to spin and rupturing several organs. The energy of the hit threw Fechter off his feet and he fell along the wall, not half a meter from it.

After this goal, no medical art of the time could save the just 18-year-old. However, the fatally injured man was not even rescued immediately, but only after an agonizingly long 40 minutes. So it was that the world watched Peter Fechter die - and he became the most famous of all the dead of the Berlin Wall.

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