For nearly four decades, the city of Berlin was divided into two. Citizens of Berlin were not permitted to freely travel between the two sectors and thus many families were split up, and friendships hindered due to the Berlin Wall. Many attempted to cross the border, with fatalities and injuries frequent.
There are many memorials to those who were lost due to the Berlin Wall and the aggressive enforcement of it by the East German Border Guard. One of the more renowned victims of the wall was a young man named Peter Fechter. Peter was just 18 years old when he lost his life at the hands of the Border Guard. His story is more renowned not due to his age, but due to the circumstances in which he passed away.
Peter was one of many apprentice bricklayers during the years after World War II and left school at the age of 14 to begin his training. It was here he met a friend named Helmut Kulbeik. Their work brought them to see many different sites around Berlin, and the numerous developments and construction sites around the city.
Whilst the city was being built up, so too was the Berlin Wall. Peter and Helmut saw this alongside the ongoing political divide in the city between capitalism and communism reaching ever higher levels of tension, they began to plan to flee the East in favour of the West. Peter had family members in the West, and with the construction of the Wall, would potentially never see them again whilst it was enforced.
Although on record, the two boys hadn’t spoken about it much to others, they had had a long-running plan of how to escape and where best to do so. They chose the street of Zimmerstrasse as their hideout before they fled, a workshop being their lookout post for the best possible time to flee. At two in the afternoon on August 17th, shots were fired upon Peter and Helmut whilst they crossed the then one-year-old Berlin Wall.
Helmut managed to escape into the West, however, Peter was fatally wounded by gunfire. What brings around his death in the public eye more so than others, was the many people who witnessed it, and the media attention that followed. Peter was left to bleed in the Berlin Wall death strip (the area constructed for traps along the border), whilst many onlookers were unable to aid him. Peter did not receive any medical attention for the fifty minutes he was left screaming in agony at the base of the wall, whilst one border guard was quoted saying “it’s not our problem”.
At the location where Peter passed away, there now stands a monument with the inscription, “he just wanted freedom”. The pillar commemorating Peter stands as a reminder to his death, and the death of the 97 others that died due to the Berlin Wall’s enforcement. Although Peter was just one of many that died under the inhumane circumstances, his death brought around massive media scrutiny on the East German government for their actions.
Peter’s death was a sacrifice alongside others, that through time, brought around change and thus should not be forgotten.