Chris Gueffroy, at the Window of Remembrance, Berlin Wall Memorial, Bernauer Straße
21 June 1968|
|Died||6 February 1989
Cause of death
|Shot by a guard whilst attempting to leave East Berlin|
|Britz district canal
Baumschulenweg Cemetery, Berlin-Treptow
|Monuments||Chris Gueffroy memorial|
|Known for||Last to be killed by use of firearms at the Berlin Wall|
Chris Gueffroy was born in Pasewalk, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on June 21, 1968. He had at least one sibling, an older brother, Stefan. He moved with his mother, Karin Gueffroy, to Berlin when he was five years old. When he was in the third grade, he was sent to the youth sports school SC Dynamo Berlin, based on his gymnastic talent. After he finished school he refused to pursue an officer’s career track in the National People’s Army and was consequently denied the right to study at the university, ending his dream of becoming an actor or a pilot. In September 1985 he began an apprenticeship in the Schönefeld airport restaurant near Berlin after which he worked in a number of different restaurants. As a waiter, his income was better than average, and he had a strong degree of freedom, but he was disgusted by the widespread corruption in the restaurant business. His friend Christian Gaudian, whom he had met at gastronomy school, shared his feelings. At twenty, he found it increasingly unbearable to think that he would remain locked up with the knowledge that it would always be this way and that he would never have the freedom to decide for himself where he wanted to live. In mid-January 1989, upon learning that he was to be conscripted into the National Peoples Army the following May, he and Gaudian decided to leave East Germany.
Gueffroy and Gaudian based their decision to try to flee over the wall on mistaken beliefs that the Schießbefehl, the standing order to shoot anyone who attempted to cross the wall, had been lifted (which it had not), and that the Swedish prime minister was to pay a state visit to East Berlin (he had already left when they attempted their escape). Their attempted escape from East Berlin to West Berlin, along the Britz district canal would take place on the night of February 5–6, 1989. Climbing the last metal lattice fence, the two were discovered and came under fire from the NVA border troops. Gueffroy was hit in the chest by two shots and died in the border strip. Gaudian, badly but not fatally injured, was arrested and was sentenced on May 24, 1989, to an imprisonment of three years by the Pankow district court for attempted illegal border-crossing of the first degree ("versuchten ungesetzlichen Grenzübertritts im schweren Fall"). In September 1989, Gaudian was freed on bail by the East German government and on October 17, 1989, he was transferred to West Berlin.
Chris Gueffroy is often erroneously named as the last person to die in the attempt to cross the wall, but he was in fact only the last to be killed through the use of weapons, and the second-last to die in an escape attempt. Winfried Freudenberg died in the crash of an improvised balloon aircraft by which he crossed the border into West Berlin on March 8, 1989.
The four border guards involved at first obtained an award (Leistungsabzeichen der Grenztruppen) from the chief of the Grenzkommandos Mitte border guards, Erich Wöllner, and a prize of 150 East German Marks each. However, after the reunification of East and West Germany, they were prosecuted by Berlin regional court. Two of the border guards, Mike Schmidt, and Peter Schmett, were acquitted and released in January 1992, because the presiding judge, Theodor Seidel, ruled that they "did not kill and did not intend to kill". A third border guard, Andreas Kuehnpast, got a suspended sentence of two years. The fourth border guard, Ingo Heinrich, who was responsible for the mortal shot in the heart, was at first sentenced to three and a half years of jail. On appeal, the Bundesgerichtshof (High Court of Justice) in 1994 reduced the penalty to a suspended sentence of two years.
In 2000, two SED functionaries, Siegfried Lorenz and Hans-Joachim Böhme, were tried for the death of Gueffroy and two other young men, but acquitted as the judge could find no evidence that they might have been able to lift the shoot-to-kill order. The case was retried on 7 August 2004, and the two men were found guilty and given suspended sentences of 15 months each. The judge explained that the short sentences were due to the length of time since the events. This was the last case concerning deaths on the inner German border.
On June 21, 2003, which would have been his 35th birthday, a monument to Gueffroy was erected on the bank of the Britz district canal. The monument was designed by Berlin artist Karl Biedermann. One of the crosses at the White Crosses memorial site next to the Reichstag building is devoted to him.
- NBC News Article, Victims of the Berlin Wall Never Forgotten, Andy Eckardt, 12 November 2004
- Baron, Udo. "Chris Gueffroy". Berlin Wall Memorial.
- Los Angeles Times article "E. German Guards on Trial: Can Justice Scale the Wall?", Tamara Jones, 17 September 1991
- Los Angeles Times article "Wall Guards Convicted in Berlin Death", Tyler Marshall, 21 January 1992
- New York Times article "2 East German Guards Convicted Of Killing Man as He Fled to West", Stephen Kinser, 21 January 1992
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chris Gueffroy.|
- Short Portrait of Chris Gueffroy at chronik-der-mauer.de
- Chris Gueffroy at "Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records"
Memorials to his death are located in the "White Crosses" memorial, next to the Reichstag building, in the "Window Of Remembrance" of the Berlin Wall Memorial in Berlin and near the former scene of the attempted escape, on the Teltow Canal.
Commemorative tablet to Chris Gueffroy. In the background is the partly destroyed Wall, near Reichstag. Winter 1989/90.