Topic

Deathsintheriver

1961
– 1989

Kreuzberg at the border

In the Kreuzberg district of West Berlin, the view of the Wall and the river that marked the border was part of everyday life. The river was a popular leisure spot, though swimming was prohibited. The Spree here belonged to East Berlin and anyone who got into difficulties in the water, or helped someone else in the water, was in danger of being shot at by GDR border soldiers. For this reason, at least six people from West Berlin died in the Spree – apart from refugees from East Berlin. The soldiers did not always take the same action: Sometimes they rescued people in the river and sent them back to West Berlin.

"I went with grandmato feed the ducks and look at the Vopo boats."

Daniel Kensbock, 2021 (raised in West Berlin)

During the Cold War, the bank of the Spree was both a leisure spot…
During the Cold War, the bank of the Spree was both a leisure spot…
…and a border, patrolled by the US army
…and a border, patrolled by the US army

Fatal escape attempts

Udo Düllick was the first person to die trying to escape across the Spree — in October 1961 near Oberbaumbrücke. Shot at by GDR border guards, he became so weakened that he drowned. At least seven men died in this section of the Spree while trying to escape from the GDR: In 1961, Werner Probst was shot by border soldiers; in 1962, Anton Walzer, as was Manfred Weylandt in 1972. In 1965, an unknown fugitive died near the former Brommy Bridge. Philipp Held and Hans-Joachim Zock, who entered the water at an unknown point, also died trying to swim across the river here. To the east of Oberbaumbrücke, near Osthafen, and to the west, below Schillingbrücke, two more people died during attempts to escape across the Spree.

Commemoration ceremony for Udo Düllick on 9 October 1961 at the riverbank in West Berlin
Commemoration ceremony for Udo Düllick on 9 October 1961 at the riverbank in West Berlin

Kreuzberg fatalities

"Children drowned close to the riverbank…"

Birgit Kinder, 2021 (artist: Test the Rest)

While the bank of the Spree in West Berlin was a popular leisure spot, it was also a danger zone. Four children died at the border here between 1972 und 1975. Cengaver Katrancı (aged 8), Siegfried Kroboth (aged 5), Giuseppe Savoca (aged 6) und Çetin Mert (aged 5) fell into the water and drowned. The GDR border guards reacted too late and none of the onlookers in West Berlin dared go into the water to rescue them. To prevent further accidents, the West Berlin Senate installed fences and an emergency call box in 1976. Another boy, Andreas Senk (aged 6), had drowned in 1966. Nobody had noticed he had fallen into the river until it was too late.

Children on the corner of Falkensteinstraße and Oberbaumstraße, 1979
Children on the corner of Falkensteinstraße and Oberbaumstraße, 1979
Young people fishing in the Spree in the 1970s
Young people fishing in the Spree in the 1970s

Mauerdurchbruch

Sándor Györffy, Mauerdurchbruch, 2009 © Stiftung Berliner Mauer, photographer: Günther Schaefer

In the painting Mauerdurchbruch ( Wall Breakthrough) by Sándor Györffy, abstract geometric shapes fly out of two heads towards each other. To the artist, the heads symbolised East and West Berlin. The bar stands for the Berlin Wall, broken through by the force of language.

Additional information:
Died during an Escape Attempt
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