Invalidenfriedhof: battles of life and death near the Berlin Wall
It almost looks like a spectacular movie scene. The Invalidenfriedhof in Berlin is a beautiful 18th century graveyard with graves of marshals and officers. Angels and and vicious looking eagles guide over them. It seems to be peaceful and quiet, but that changed in 1961 when the Berlin Wall was erected.
The official border between West and East Berlin ran straight through Invalidenfriedhof. The GDR made a surrealistic decision when the Berlin Wall was erected. The gravestones that were near or on the official border were removed. And later on replaced by watchtowers and concrete of the Berlin Wall.
But this didn’t hold 14-year old Walter Tews back in 1962. He travelled from Erfurt to Berlin to climb over the Berlin Wall. At the train station in Berlin he bought a tourist map. He looked for the the easiest way to get to the other side of the Berlin Wall. He decided to go to the Invalidenfriedhof.
When he arrived there he instantly ran past the graves, climbed over the Berlin Wall and dived in the canal (Berlin-Spandauerschiffahrtskanal). When he was trying to swim to West Berlin the GDR-border soldiers noticed him. They immediately opened fire. The boy got hit several times. East German soldiers were strictly forbidden to shoot women, children and at West Berlin. The GDR government was afraid this would make the complicated relationship with West Germany even more difficult. But at the 23th of May, 1962 these rules were broken: Tews was 14 years old and the soldiers fires at West Berlin. However Tews was 1 meter 80 and looked like an adult to the GDR soldiers. Heated up by the escape the border police just started shooting at the swimmer.
Even though Tews was shot several times he managed to pull himself out of the water. He hid in an alcove in the canal wall in West Berlin. Border soldiers from West Berlin tried to get the boy to safety but didn’t succeed. They were also under fire. The West Berlin border soldiers fired back to give the boy a chance and fight for their own lives. When the shooting stopped for a while a passerby threw a rope towards Tews. He grabbed it, held on tight and was pulled to safety and rushed to hospital. He survived. But became invalid because of the shots.
Deadly shot on Invalidenfriedhof
GDR-soldier Peter Göring was less lucky. He was hit by three bullets from the West German soldiers and died. The GDR-government made a martyr out of Göring. He got a state funeral. The GDR and even named several schools and streets after him and promoted him to sergeant after his death. Schoolchildren were taught about this so called hero and a poem was made about him as well. 14 year old Tews wasn’t mentioned in this heroic poem. Newspapers in the GDR told the people in East Berlin that Göring was lured into a trap by terrorists from West Berlin. The official version he was killed because of border provocation. Not a single shot was fired back. The GDR even offered a reward for the capture of the person that killed Göring. 10.000 West Mark in total.
That was of course, beside the truth. The East Germans fired 128 bullets at West Berlin soil. The West Berlin border soldiers fired 28 back at the Invalidenfriedhof. Göring had ignored orders from his boss. He wanted to get a better shot at the teenager and left cover. Three of these 28 bullets hit the eager soldier and he died because of it.
Remains of Berlin Wall
It is not widely known but at the Invalidenfriedhof you can still see very well where the Berlin Wall was. Some parts are still there to check out. All the information about Göring and Tews can still be read here. Including the stories from the East- and West-Berlin newspapers. The cemetery Invalidenfriedhof is at Scharnhorststrasse 33. Check out the most important graves .
The German author Uwe Timm wrote about the graveyard and the people that lie here in his novel Halbschatten.
One of the oldest cemeteries of Berlin
commissioned by Frederik the Great
1961: Berlin Wall ran through the cemetery
Four people died trying to flee East Berlin through the cemetery
Visit: corner Scharnhorstrasse-Invalidenstrasse
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