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CENGAVER KATRANCI

Cengaver Katranci
Cengaver Katranci was born in 1964 and lived with his mother, who came from Turkey, and his three siblings in the West Berlin district of Kreuzberg.[1]

It was October 30, 1972, shortly before 1 p.m. The eight-year-old Turkish child was playing with a friend on the Spree embankment at the Gröbenufer in Kreuzberg, which was located about 100 meters from the Oberbaum Bridge border crossing. The two boys were standing on the narrow quay wall feeding the swans when Cengaver Katranci suddenly lost his balance and fell into the cold water.[2] His friend screamed and ran off to get help. A nearby fisherman tried to figure out what had happened. When he finally understood the boy’s pleas, he sent him to the nearby control post to get help and ran to the site of the accident. As he started to undress, he realized that the entire width of the Spree here belonged to East Berlin and that if he tried to save the boy he would risk being shot by East German border guards. He decided against jumping into the water to save the drowning child.

In the meantime the West Berlin customs officials had notified the police and fire department and had arrived at the Spree bank. A tanker was traveling on the river, accompanied by an East German fire boat. The customs officials called out to the crew, using gesticulation to persuade the crew of the boat to turn around and rescue the child. The fire boat stopped briefly and then continued on its way.

A West Berlin police car arrived at about 1:30 p.m. The police began negotiating with an officer of the border troops on the Oberbaum Bridge about retrieving the drowned boy from the water. A short time later the West Berlin firemen arrived at Gröbenufer and two divers got ready to enter the water. They stood on the quay wall waiting for authorization to jump into the border waters to no avail.

An East Berlin water police boat stopped in the middle of the river near the site of the accident. The East German water police required a special permit from the border guards before getting any closer to the western bank. The people on the western bank called out to the crew, beckoning to them and the boat moved hesitantly towards the western bank but then turned back before a border guard speed boat quickly caught up with it. The boat had moved beyond the middle of the river into the forbidden zone that was off-limits to the crew.

A crowd that, according to police estimates, numbered more than a hundred people, had gathered at Gröbenufer. They were witnesses to a situation of humiliating helplessness. The West Berlin police had been negotiating with the border troop soldiers on the Oberbaum Bridge border crossing for almost an hour and a half. The West Berlin firemen, who were prepared with divers and rescue equipment, were never permitted to take action.[3]

At about 2:30 p.m. an East Berlin lifeboat arrived and began to search for the child. After half an hour a diver with a dead child was seen climbing out of the water close to the bank. The stretcher was ready; the dead child could have been handed over, but instead of swimming to the West Berlin riverbank, the divers carried the body back to the border troop boat. It was hardly fathomable to the onlookers on the Gröbenufer, but every move the diver made toward the western bank with the young boy would have been regarded by the border guards as an attempt to escape.

That evening Cengaver Katranci’s mother was permitted to travel to East Berlin accompanied by two relatives. She had to identify her son in the forensic institute of Charité Hospital after which the body was transferred to West Berlin. The mother requested that her child be buried in Ankara.[4]

The death of the eight-year-old-boy led the Berlin Senate to announce that it would negotiate a treaty with East Germany over assistance measures that could be employed should future accidents occur in the border waters.[5] It took many rounds of negotiations and the deaths of three more children in the Spree before terms could be settled on in 1975.

[Udo Baron]

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[1] The West Berlin police registered the name of the drowned child mistakenly as Cengiz Koc, the last name of his uncle. It was later corrected by the Berliner Morgenpost and confirmed by the police. See Berliner Morgenpost, 2.11.1972, and “Vermerk der West-Berliner Polizei, 2.11.1972”, in: LAB, Bestand Abgeordnetenhaus.
[2] See Berliner Morgenpost, 31.10.1972; BZ, 31.10.1972.
[3] See Die Welt, 31.10.1972.
[4] See Berliner Morgenpost, 2.11.1972.
[5] See “Plenarprotokolle des Abgeordnetenhauses von Berlin, 6. Wahlperiode, 37. Sitzung vom 9.11.1972,” pp. 1294–1295.