A couple of vacation slides I bought, from a 1960s trip to Cold War Germany led me to the story of Bernd Lünser. Bernd was a typical East German college kid. He was home for the summer in 1961 and eager to get back to school and finish his degree in civil engineering that fall. But there had been a lot of construction going on in Berlin, during the summer of ’61. The powers in East Germany and the USSR had started a yuge infrastructure project — an enormous wall around the city.
Bernauer Strasse or Straß as I like to spell it — mostly to show off that I can find the ß key on my keyboard — was a hotbed of East German escape. The street and sidewalk was in West German territory, but the buildings were in the control of the Soviets. This made for a great place to make a break for freedom, so Soviet authorities evacuated the buildings and bricked up the doors and windows and upped the patrols of the area to slow down the tide of people getting the hell out of East Berlin.
Bernd was determined to make it back to school for fall classes and planned a daring escape. To get around the barriers and guards on the ground, he would climb to the roof of a house and begin crossing rooftops like Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief until he reached Bernauer Staß. Once there he would scale down to freedom. Unfortunately he was spotted by border guards and pursued. While being chased Bernd called down to West Berliners for help. The West Berlin police were notified and rushed to the rescue. Things got a little heated when the police and the East German border guards began shooting at each other. Firemen came in and set up a rescue net to catch young Bernd, but before he could jump down a border guard caught up with him. A tussle broke out on the roof top and the men fought on the edge of the roof. Bernd managed to escape the grip of the guard and made his jump.
Bernd Lünser missed the rescue net by a few feet and died instantly when he hit the ground. He was buried in West Berlin and of course the East German authorities refused to let his mother cross the border for the funeral.