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KLAUS GARTEN

Klaus Garten, who was born on July 19, 1941 in Radeberg, Saxony, was three years old when he lost his father in the Second World War. He grew up in his hometown with his mother and stepfather, a Communist Party functionary.[1] The trained bodywork technician completed his military service with the National People’s Army in Stahnsdorf at the southwest edge of Berlin from 1959 to 1962.

He met his future wife during reserve training in Oranienburg and after finishing his military service moved with her into a garden house in their hometown.[2] Klaus Garten got a position working as a metalworker with the Hennigsdorf steel plant. As a skilled worker he took on extra tasks to make his contribution in helping to fulfill the expectations of the economic plan. He was a member of the Communist Party and designated his company’s party group organizer, but this responsibility caused him increasing uneasiness. [3] Only a very few of the 50 staff members in his division belonged to the party, and he sensed that his colleagues “looked down” on him because of his political role.[4] An East German secret police report noted “manifestations of resignation among the party members in this division of the company.”[5]

As he became increasingly isolated at work, he considered quitting his job and opening a restaurant, but he also began to think about fleeing to the West. He spoke to his wife about it in July 1965.[6] Klaus Garten had been living with his wife in their one-room garden house for a year and half. They had moved in there together with the hope of establishing a dignified home over time. But the young husband became increasingly demoralized by the impossibility of ever obtaining building material.[7] As a childless couple they had little chance of being allotted another apartment. Klaus Garten tried to obtain a car, probably to transport building material, but used cars were absurdly expensive. They could cost three times as much as a new car for which he would have had to wait at least ten years.

Klaus Garten began looking for a car that had been in an accident and was damaged: As a body mechanic he was confident he could get it into tiptop shape again. During his vacation in 1965, the young couple drove on August 17 to East Berlin, “the capital of East Germany,” in the hope of somehow getting a suitable junk car. In Pankow he was told to go to the “German trade office” in Teltow. His wife returned home by S-Bahn and he embarked on the long trip which entailed taking the train and bus via Schönefeld and driving around the west side of the city.[8] But when he reached the “German Trade Office” in Teltow the people there were unable to help him. Although they sold discarded company vehicles, there was an endlessly long waiting list to obtain one. Additionally, the people on the list were often bypassed anyway because new arrivals were often sold for cash under the table. This was one more disappointment to add to Klaus Garten’s other bad experiences that year and may have been what tipped the scales for him and his faith in East German socialism. The young man, who until then had been active as a Communist Party comrade and a long-standing servant of his state, must have finally recognized the hard and fast truth that he could not get ahead in East Germany. At this point he decided to leave East Germany.

He was familiar with the Stahnsdorf area because he had spent his time in the military there. At around 9 p.m. a border guard watched as the 24-year-old climbed over a wire mesh fence on a lot on Paul-Gerhard-Strasse in Teltow-Seehof that was located very close to the border. The border strip was only 20 meters wide there. A guard positioned about 200 meters away opened fire before the fugitive could even begin running towards West Berlin. Three shots were fired from the machine gun and the fugitive fell off the fence.[9] After a short search the border guards found him in the anti-vehicle trench to which he had dragged himself. His thigh was wounded and he was bleeding heavily. Two additional border soldiers who had been called to the scene also arrived, but instead of bandaging the man’s wounds or transporting him away, the four guards ducked into the trench to stay out of view. Policemen who were close by on the West Berlin side had begun searching the border grounds with hand-held lamps. More and more residents gathered on the west side of the border, trying to identify something in the darkness.[10] The West Berlin police registered that six border guards wrapped an injured man in a tarpaulin at about 9:50 p.m.[11]

The border guards, however, did not know that they had been seen pulling the man out of the trench. “Our actions were carried out under cover and could not be witnessed by the enemy,”[12] one of them reported. And he added: “We transported the border violator on our backs as we crawled on all fours.”[13] It is clear that they took a considerable detour in order to avoid being seen by the people on the west side when they transported the injured man through the anti-vehicle trench to the observation tower where they hastily bandaged him. Almost an entire hour had passed before he received any medical aid at all. When Klaus Garten was finally taken away he had already lost a tremendous amount of blood. Nevertheless, they did not take him to the church-run hospital a kilometer away, but to the Stasi Prison Hospital in Hohenschönhausen, which took at least an hour to reach. Klaus Garten died from his injuries later that night.[14]

Thirty-five years later the Berlin public prosecutor’s office opened an investigation on Klaus Garten’s case. But in 1995 the case was dismissed again because the man suspected of having pulled the trigger claimed to have only fired a warning shot and the court was unable to prove otherwise.[15]

The morning after his death, a member of the East German secret police paid Klaus Garten’s wife a visit and brought her to Oranienburg to be interrogated. She was questioned about her marriage, her husband’s problems at work and his plans to escape, but was not informed that her husband had died while attempting to flee until a few days later. She later learned more details from a newspaper clipping from the “BZ” that a relative in West Berlin had sent her. It was dated August 18, 1965 and reported on her husband’s fatal escape attempt.[16]

In order to ensure that the circumstances of Klaus Garten’s death remained secret, the East German secret police demanded that the widow only tell the truth of how he died to her next of kin. She was to tell everyone else that Klaus Garten had died in a motorcycle or car accident.[17]

Klaus Garten’s body was cremated in the Berlin-Baumschulenweg Crematorium on August 20, 1965. The remains were buried in the Schmachtenhagen Cemetery.

[Martin Ahrends/Udo Baron]

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[1] See “Ermittlungen der VfS Gross-Berlin/Abt. IX zur Leichensache Klaus Werner Garten, 20.8.1965,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 754/70, Bd. 10, Nr. 3, Bl. 22–23.
[2] See “Protokoll der Vernehmung der Ehefrau von Klaus Garten durch das MfS, 18.8.1965,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 754/70, Bd. 10, Nr. 3, Bl. 12–16, here Bl. 13.
[3] See “Beurteilung des Kollegen Klaus Garten durch den VEB Stahl- und Walzwerk „Wilhelm Florin“, 19.8.1965,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 754/70, Bd. 10, Nr. 3, Bl. 11.
[4] See “Protokoll der Vernehmung der Ehefrau von Klaus Garten durch das MfS, 18.8.1965,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 754/70, Bd. 10, Nr. 3, Bl. 14.
[5] “Ermittlungen der VfS Gross-Berlin/Abt. IX zur Leichensache Klaus Werner Garten, 20.8.1965,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 754/70, Bd. 10, Nr. 3, Bl. 21.
[6] See “Protokoll der Vernehmung der Ehefrau von Klaus Garten durch das MfS, 18.8.1965,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 754/70, Bd. 10, Nr. 3, Bl. 14.
[7] See “Ermittlungen der VfS Gross-Berlin/Abt. IX zur Leichensache Klaus Werner Garten, 20.8.1965,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 754/70, Bd. 10, Nr. 3, Bl. 21.
[8] See “Zeugenvernehmung von E. V., verwitwete Garten, durch die Berliner Polizei, 11.3.1991,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 90/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 20.
[9] See “Einzel-Information Nr. 754/65 des MfS/ZAIG über einen verhinderten Grenzdurchbruch im Abschnitt Teltow-Seehof/Potsdam am 17.8.1965, 19.8.1965,” in: BStU, MfS, ZAIG Nr. 1159, Bl. 11–12.
[10] See “Handschriftlicher Bericht des Grenzsoldaten K. über die Bergung des Grenzverletzers am 17.8.1965,” 18.8.1965, in: BStU, MfS, AOP 6505/66, Bl. 17.
[11] See “Strafanzeige der Berliner Polizei wegen Verdachts des versuchten Totschlages gegen unbekannte Angehörige der 4. Grenzbrigade, 46. Rgt. der sogen. NVA-Grenztruppen, 18.8.1965,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 90/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 70.
[12] “Handschriftlicher Bericht des Grenzsoldaten K. über die Bergung des Grenzverletzers am 17.8.1965, 18.8.1965,” in: BStU, MfS, AOP 6505/66, Bl. 17.
[13] Ibid.
[14] See “Einzel-Information Nr. 754/65 des MfS/ZAIG über einen verhinderten Grenzdurchbruch im Abschnitt Teltow-Seehof/Potsdam am 17.8.1965,” 19.8.1965, in BStU, MfS, ZAIG Nr. 1159, Bl. 12.
[15] See “Verfügung der Staatsanwaltschaft Berlin, 20.10.1995,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 90/90, Bd. 2, Bl. 389–390.
[16] See “Zeugenvernehmung von E. V., verwitwete Garten, durch die Berliner Polizei, 11.3.1991,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 90/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 20–21.
[17] See “Bericht der VfS Gross-Berlin/Abt. IX über die Leichensache Klaus Garten, 20.8.1965,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 754/70, Bd. 10, Nr. 3, Bl. 25.