On 24 August 1961 Günter Litfin tried to swim through the Humboldthafen harbour to West Berlin. The escape attempt ended in catastrophe.
The watchtower: testimony of the border regime and its victims
The Günter Litfin Memorial at Kieler Eck is located in today’s district of Mitte on the Berlin-Spandau shipping canal.
In 1961, the watchtower served as a GDR border troop command post. The massive square watchtower preserved to this day is one of the 32 command posts from which officers controlled the garrisons of the 280 border towers along the Berlin Wall and organised patrols. The commander of the command post was responsible for ensuring that no escapes took place in his section and was in direct contact with superiors, watchtower garrisons and the Volkspolizei (People’s Police). This is where all the information came together and where a 24-hour operation-ready alarm group was housed that could be deployed to counter escapees.
August 24, 1961
Günter Litfin (24) grew up in East Berlin. In 1961 he worked in West Berlin – until the border was closed by the building of the Wall in August 1961. Litfin had long been critical of the GDR’s political system. Suddenly cut off from his job, he planned to flee to the West.
On 24 August, he climbed into the water not far from the command point at Kieler Eck to swim through the Humboldthafen harbour to the opposite shore. The GDR’s border control system acted immediately: East Berlin policemen first fired warning shots, but then opened fire and killed him.
Günter Litfin left a younger brother behind in East Berlin, Jürgen Litfin. After Günter's death, Jürgen first tried to live with the circumstances in the GDR. But then he made an application to leave the country, which was rejected. In 1980 the regime arrested him for alleged escape aid. But the tide turned: the West German government obtained his release and after 1981 Jürgen Litfin lived with his family in West Berlin.
However, Jürgen could not forget the death of his brother. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he successfully committed himself to the preservation of the former command post on Kieler Straße: the watchtower remained standing despite the new buildings surrounding it. On the anniversary of his brother’s death, Jürgen Litfin inaugurated a place of remembrance here in 2003: to commemorate the Berlin Wall and his brother Günter, the first victim to be shot dead at the Wall.
In 2017, Jürgen Litfin handed over the memorial to the Berlin Wall Foundation.
Today the foundation offers guided tours of the watchtower. You can also explore the inside of the tower yourself: Take a look at the documents, photos and articles of the time in East and West Berlin daily newspapers. Climb up to the top floor, step into the window hatches and gain an impression of what the commander and guards of the border regime had in view.
Border guard towers at the Berlin Wall had different forms and functions. Another original watchtower can be seen on Erna-Berger-Straße at Leipziger Platz.
May – September
Saturday and Sunday
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
April – October 2019
Every Saturday, 11:00 am (German)
Every second Saturday of the month, 12:00 pm (English)
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School pupils free of charge