Geopolitics

The Hidden Victims Of The Cold War, Shot Down At The Berlin Wall

The Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives, picking up the pieces of Germany's dark past
The Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives, picking up the pieces of Germany's dark past
Claudia Becker

BERLIN - She’ll never know why, on August 7 1970, her father was in the border area near the Berlin Wall. The only thing she knows is that East German border guards fired 177 shots at him. Monika N. was 13 when she lost her father. Her sister was a year older.

The worst thing on that summer day, she remembers, was the uncertainty. Nobody in the West knew that her father, Gerald Thiem had been shot. They only found out 24 years later, well after their mother – who thought her husband had deserted the family – died.

The West Berlin bricklayer is just one of many “Wall victims” whose death was successfully covered up by the East German security service (Stasi, short for Staatssicherheit, literally State Security). By 1989, 136 people hadbeen killed at The Wall, most of them – unlike Thiem – as they tried to flee from East to West.

Thiem’s story is one of five highlighted in a just-inaugurated temporary exhibition at the Berlin education center of the Bundesbeauftragte für die Stasi-Unterlagen (Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives) where records of the feared East German state security apparatus are kept.

Christian Booß, the exhibition’s coordinator, selected the stories to show how the Stasi hushed the deaths up. The exhibits includes items the victims had in their pockets at the time of death – such as house keys that the secret police made copies of to get into the homes of the victims and plant listening devices.

Another victim profiled in the exhibit is Horst Einsiedel, a 33-year-old mechanical engineer from East Berlin. He didn’t want to join the Socialist Unity Party (SED) but felt that not having done so was damaging his career. He missed the West, where his mother and sister lived. Although he had a wife and daughter in the East, he decided to flee – via the cemetery in Berlin-Pankow, which he knew well because his father was buried there.

In the early hours of March 15 1973, he went to the cemetery with two ladders. He successfully used one to climb over preliminary fencing. But as he was leaning the second ladder against the actual Wall, border guards opened fire and he died on the spot.

Two days later his wife reported him missing to the East German police. But the men who showed up to talk to her about her missing spouse weren’t normal policemen, and what they were really trying to ascertain was whether or not she knew about his plans to flee. Although they knew he was dead, they asked for photographs of him in a pretense of organizing a search for the missing man.

Several weeks later, she was informed that her husband’s Trabant car had been found deserted in some woods: In all likelihood, they said, Horst Einsiedel had been the victim of foul play.

But the Stasi weren’t sure the woman believed them. They monitored her mail and phone calls, and discovered that she did indeed have doubts. So after three months they returned with more news: They’d found her husband’s body at a barrier near Potsdam. Very drunk, he had been trying to flee to the West. They strongly advised her not to ask to see his corpse, which they described as heavily decomposed. The truth however was that Einsiedel had been cremated shortly after he was shot.

A conspiracy of silence

As the exhibit shows, the Baumschulenweg crematorium was the last stop for Wall victims, whose cases – and the covering up of their deaths – were entirely handled by the Stasi. This involved faking all documents necessary, such as death certificates, and passing themselves off as police officers when they dealt with family members but also with authorities and crematorium officials.

The Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives discovered that doctors, prosecutors, the police, and employees of various government departments, the crematorium and the cemetery constituted a kind of “cartel of silence” to keep the disposal of the bodies of wall victims a secret.

To this day, researchers have not been able to clear up exactly what happened to the remains of six victims.

Monika N., however, does know what happened to her father. Back in the summer of 1970, she and mother tried every possible lead to find out where he was, talking to friends, his boss, work colleagues. The police, however, were unhelpful, claiming they didn’t have time to deal with “every husband that goes missing.” Meanwhile her mother worked as a cleaning lady to keep the family afloat.

When Monika N.’s mother discovered that her husband’s bank account was empty, she did in fact wonder if he had escaped to the East to make a new life there. So she wrote to East German authorities asking if he might be living in the DDR, and received a reply stating that he did not. In 1981 Monika N.’s mother had her husband officially declared dead: She had met someone else and wished to remarry. But she never stopped thinking that her first husband could suddenly turn up again.

Monika N. says she’s mourned long enough. But even if she is no longer looking back, she can’t forget – and she hopes the exhibit will keep the memory of those shot along Berlin’s and other East/West German borders alive in collective memory.

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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