DFor many students in ninth or tenth grade, the trip to Berlin is the highlight of their school days. You walk through the Brandenburg Gate, marvel at the hustle and bustle of the streets and the sprawling subway and S-Bahn network – and then you're convinced that one day you'd like to live here, at least for a while. Or on the contrary, for nothing in this world.

Jörg Thomann

Editor of the “Life” section of Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

It was no different 50 years ago. That's how long it has been since the 10th grade of Bad Hersfeld High School set off for the big city, which was still divided at the time. 35 young people spent a few days in West Berlin and on one Friday they visited the East. It was this day, March 29, 1974, that made the Bad Hersfeld students' trip to Berlin unforgettable. You might think that at least three of them – Hanna, Petra and Martina – would have done everything to forget the events of that day.

On March 29, 1974, 38-year-old Czeslaw Kukuczka was shot in the back with a pistol at the Berlin border crossing on Friedrichstrasse; A few hours later, he died in Hohenschönhausen State Security Hospital. The Pole had previously asked his country's mission in East Berlin for permission to travel to the West; otherwise he threatened to detonate a bomb allegedly hidden in his briefcase. Stasi staff then escorted him to the border, but not with the intention of letting him go to the West; Instead, it was ordered from above that he should be rendered “harmless”. It was implemented in broad daylight in the middle of the central exit hall known as the Palace of Tears. There may have been a few eyewitnesses, but only three names are known. They are Hanna B., Petra B. and Martina S.

From a distance of two meters

“The Mystery of the Attack on the Berlin Wall” is the title of a report in the “Bild” newspaper on April 2, 1974, illustrated by a photo of three serious-looking tenth graders. The text says the girls agreed they had witnessed a civilian wearing a dark coat and tinted glasses shoot the man in the back from two meters away. The class teacher, who did not see the crime himself, has said that he considers his students “very trustworthy”.

50 years later, the man who allegedly killed Czeslaw Kukuczka is on trial in Berlin. Now 80-year-old Martin N. from Leipzig, whose first name is Manfred, has been blamed on state security documents found in 2016. His name can be found on the list of proposals signed by the head of the Stasi, Erich Mielke, for the award of the combat order “For services to the people and the fatherland”. According to the files, “Comrade Lt. N” was to receive a bronze medal for having “disarmed a terrorist with a firearm” on March 29. After Poland issued a European Arrest Warrant for the murder in 2021, Berlin prosecutors decided in 2023 not to treat the case as manslaughter, but as murder, and filed charges.

Czeslaw Kukuczka memorial event on Bernauer Strasse.  The portrait photo is from 1955.

Czeslaw Kukuczka memorial event on Bernauer Strasse. The portrait photo is from 1955.

Image: Wikipedia

For this reason, former classmates Hanna, Petra and Martina set off for Berlin again, this time each on their own. The Berlin District Court called them as witnesses in the trial against Manfred N. Hanna is 66 years old today, the other two are 65 years old. Between the crime and the trial, there is a lifetime for them, during which they studied and practiced their profession and married. However, he didn't let the whole thing go. And if the right person is in the dock, for the first time since March 29, 1974, they will be in the same room as the man who killed a person before their eyes.