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The victims at the Berlin Wall: Window of Remembrance of the Berlin Wall Memorial, Photo: 2010 (Photo: Hans-Hermann Hertle)

Manfred Mäder

born on August 23, 1948
shot dead on November 21, 1986


near Karpfenteichstrasse
on the sector border between Berlin-Treptow and Berlin-Neukölln

Early in the morning, at about 5:00 a.m., the two men drove at high speed towards the border that divided the Treptow and Neukölln districts of Berlin. They broke through a border gate in the interior security wall and through the signal fence.

Manfred Mäder, born on August 23, 1948 in Prenzlau, was a professional driver. At the end of the seventies he tried unsuccessfully to flee to the West through Czechoslovakia. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison and served the term in the Bautzen II Penal Institution.

Manfred Mäder, shot dead at the Berlin Wall: MfS photo of escape vehicle [Nov. 21, 1986]
There were hardly any work opportunities available to Manfred Mäder after he was released from prison. His wife, who had married him in 1985, reported that "he had to do the lowest farm jobs that no one else wanted to do" and had to report to the East German police once a week. Manfred Mäder had moved in with her and her young daughter in an apartment located close to the Wall in Berlin-Treptow.[1] The following year the family applied for permission to leave East Germany.[2] Applications for permission to leave the country were submitted to the internal division of the district council office, but rarely did anyone know if his request would be granted until a final decision had been made. Those who were granted permission to leave were usually informed of the decision only shortly before the designated date of their departure. After people submitted their request, they lived between hope and resignation and with a total uncertainty about where and how they would live through the next few years. Manfred Mäder was unable to endure being at the mercy of the authorities. He wanted to determine his own future. When Manfred Mäder met René Gross, who had also submitted a request to leave, the two men soon agreed to flee to West Berlin in advance of their families.[3] They may have been encouraged by the fact that other people they knew had succeeded in fleeing to the West.[4]

On the evening of November 20, 1986 Manfred Mäder told his wife that "the escape was going to fly that night."[5] He would not be talked out of it and the couple said their goodbyes. He and René Gross stole a truck during the night, a "W 50" with a tail-lift that could reach to the top of the Berlin Wall.[6] Early in the morning, at about 5:00 a.m., the two men drove at high speed towards the border that divided the Treptow and Neukölln districts of Berlin. They broke through a border gate in the interior security wall and through the signal fence. After turning sharply to the right the vehicle came to a halt parallel to the base of the concrete wall facing West Berlin.[7] Guards on two watchtowers and guards on the ground rushed to the site and aimed automatic fire at the men until they both fell to the ground, either dead or severely injured. Manfred Mäder, who had jumped from the truck’s tail-lift onto the top of the Wall, was hit by a bullet in his left thigh. He fell back onto the east side of the Wall and bled to death. René Gross had given up his flight and crawled under the truck to seek protection from the bullets when he was shot in the head. [8]
Manfred Mäder, shot dead at the Berlin Wall: MfS photo of escape vehicle at the Berlin Wall in Berlin-Treptow near Karpfenteichstrasse [Nov. 21, 1986]
Manfred Mäder, born on August 23, 1948, shot dead at the Berlin Wall on November 21, 1986: MfS photo of broken border gate in Berlin-Treptow near Karpfenteichstrasse [Nov. 21, 1986]
The border soldiers involved in the incident were relieved of their duty and decorated the same day with the "Medal of Merit of the Border Troops of East Germany" in bronze – and invited to attend a banquet dinner.[9] An investigation opened by the East German military state prosecutor was suspended two months later with the explanation that the case involved fatal wounds "caused by self-inflicted actions."

Almost 18 years later the Berlin district court sentenced the men who had shot Manfred Mäder to a ten-month prison sentence commuted to probation for a "less serious case" of manslaughter.[10] It was not possible to determine who was responsible for shooting René Gross.

Residents of the West Berlin district of Neukölln were awoken at about five o’clock in the morning by "explosion-like noises" accompanied by shots from a machine gun.[11] The West Berlin police and customs office tried to gather information about what had happened but they were not able to see the site of the incident. Given the strong presence on the West Berlin side, the border troops and East German secret police decided against investigating the crime site and removed all the existing evidence for "political-operative reasons."[12] In order to prevent an "information flow," the Stasi blocked access to the public telephone booth in the border regiment involved in the incident.[13] The border soldiers involved had to swear to secrecy in writing and thereafter their mail was examined. The wives of the two dead men were kept under surveillance with the aim of "bearing influence on the prevention of conduct damaging to East Germany."[14]

By the morning of November 21, 1986 western radio stations had already reported on a failed escape attempt to West Berlin. Manfred Mäder’s wife knew immediately that the fugitives might be her husband and his friend. That very evening the East German secret police paid her a visit and took her to the East German police headquarters in Berlin-Mitte for questioning. There she learned that her husband had been shot while trying to escape. She was forced to sign a document swearing to secrecy about the circumstances of his death and agreeing to invite only the closest family members to the funeral.

Manfred Mäder was buried in his parents’ gravesite. His wife was put off by the authorities for many months until finally, in December 1987, she was permitted to leave East Germany.[15]

Udo Baron

Footnotes Open
[1] See "Protokoll der Zeugenvernehmung der Witwe von Manfred Mäder durch die Reutlinger Polizei, 14.4.1992," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js/56 Js 275/03, Bd. 2, Bl. 58–59. [2] See "Information der BVfS Berlin/Abt. IX, 23.11.1986," in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 5795, Bl. 58–63. [3] See "Protokoll der Zeugenvernehmung der Witwe von René Gross durch die Berliner Polizei, 29.1.1991," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js/56 Js 275/03, Bd. 1, Bl. 89. [4] See "Protokoll der Zeugenvernehmung der Witwe von Manfred Mäder durch die Reutlinger Polizei, 14.4.1992," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js/56 Js 275/03, Bd. 2, Bl. 58. [5] Ibid., Bl. 58. [6] See establishment of facts concerning circumstances of escape in: "Urteil des Landgerichts Berlin vom 10.5.2004," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js/56 Js 275/03, Bd. 7, Bl. 206–209. [7] See "Information der BVfS Berlin/Abt. IX, 23.11.1986," in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 5795, Bl. 58. [8] See ibid. [9] See "Urteil des Landgerichts Berlin vom 10.5.2004," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js/56 Js 275/03, Bd. 7, Bl. 210. [10] See ibid., Bl. 190–191, 224 ff. [11] Süddeutsche Zeitung, 22.11.1986. [12] "Information der BVfS Berlin/Abt. IX, 23.11.1986," in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 5795, Bl. 60. [13] See "Bericht des MfS/HA I/Grenzkommando Mitte/Abteilung Abwehr über die Verhinderung eines Grenzdurchbruches DDR-Berlin (West) am 21.11.1986, 21.11.1986," in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 5795, Bl. 55. [14] "Information der BVfS Berlin/Abt. IX, 23.11.1986," in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 5795, Bl. 63. [15] See "Protokoll der Zeugenvernehmung der Witwe von Manfred Mäder durch die Reutlinger Polizei, 14.4.1992," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js/56 Js 275/03, Bd. 2, Bl. 60–61.