When reflecting on the German student movement during the 1960s, it is impossible to ignore the brutal murder of student Benno Ohnesorg. His death on 2nd June 1967 not only sparked the left-wing movement which would later give rise to the Green Party in Germany, but also demonstrated an urgent need for ideological change. Yet despite the widespread coverage of this revolutionary event, the motivation of the perpetrator – Karl-Heinz Kurras – are often neglected; it was primarily this void in public knowledge which aroused my interest and inspired me to write a potential memoir on behalf of Kurras. Nearly half a century on, Kurras is remembered as a deeply aggressive policeman from West Berlin, but predominantly as the embodiment of ‘West German fascism’ [Der Spiegel, 2009]. This reputable member of the police force harboured resentment towards those who challenged the authority and arguably outdated ideology of the state. In an interview in 2007 about the murder, he stated: ‘Wer mich angreift, wird vernichtet. Aus. Feierabend. So ist das zu sehen.‘ Such an alarming comment made decades after the movement proves the perpetual need to strive for less oppression, for mutual respect of every citizen, and for equality in the modern age.
Der Spiegel, The Truth about the Gunshot that Changed German, www.spiegel.de/international/germany/1968-revisited-the-truth-about-the-gunshot-that-changed-germany-a-627342.html, [15th April 2018].
Deutsche Welle, 50 years ago: How the Shah of Iran’s visit impacted German history, http://www.dw.com/en/50-years-ago-how-the-shah-of-irans-visit-impacted-german-history/a-39096262, [15th April 2018].
Memoir of a Murderer
West Berlin, 3rd June 1967
It was half past eight in the evening. A man was lying on the floor of the courtyard outside the Deutsche Oper on 66 Krumme Straße. His cold, lifeless body slumped on the ground. His eyes were glazed over, staring emptily at the concrete. The man was dead. But I’d never felt more alive.
The day had arrived; the day they had warned us about for so long; the day of revolution. The Shah of Persia and his wife were to visit the city. Tension had been bubbling through the streets of West Berlin for months on end; rumours circulated every office, every bar, and every corner shop within miles of the capital. The news was inescapable, and the city waited with baited breath.
Yesterday morning dragged in its usual sleepy fashion. I woke up, restless and agitated, and went downstairs to read Das Bild and smoke my first cigarette of the day. After sifting through the routine nonsense and same-old Trabi adverts, I was drawn to one article in particular. It warned about the likes of that delusional trouble-maker, Rudi Dutschke, and his gang of mindless criminals, up no-good as per usual. It talked aggressively about the protests that were said to unfold during the Shah’s visit, and exposed them for the backwards anarchists they are. Bloody terrorists. We were told to keep a close eye on them during yesterday’s demonstrations; they are unpredictable, you never know what they could do next or how they would endanger innocent people. Their arson attack on the department store in Brussels said it all; they need to be eradicated from our society, otherwise their destructive ideology will spread like wildfire.
All day long, the hum of angry protestors marching towards the centre could be heard from my flat window. They were flocking in their hundreds. But all day long, a deeper and deeper rage was burning in the pit of my stomach. An urge to get rid of them all. Martha (my wife) was stood behind me, captivated by the ‘excitement’ of the demonstration. To her, the whole debacle was ‘enthralling’, but then I suppose that’s what you expect from someone who reads Konkret magazine. How could she not grasp the severity of these protests, or understand the kind of people she was rallying? To me, she had missed the whole point.
After several waves of protestors had pranced down the Ku’Damm, it was nearly time for me to meet the other members of Department One, ready to patrol the streets. We were camouflaged in our normal attire, the undercover protectors of our city. I glanced out of the window for one last time, brushed myself down, and left the flat. The once muted rumble of the crowds grew deafening as I approached the centre of the demonstrations. The protestors comprised students predominantly, brandishing caricatures of the Shah and his wife. The crowd was littered with hateful propaganda, eggs were lobbed at passing cars and policemen, and riots had descended on the streets. But it was the chanting that echoed in my mind. Incessant chanting that was impossible to stifle. Enraged protestors were heckling slander towards my fellow policemen, shaming us as the ‘Auschwitz generation’ for our reluctance to adapt to social and ideological and admit our mistakes. At this moment our mission felt futile, we had underestimated the sheer anger and desire for change. But I wouldn’t let it overwhelm me. At the first sign of threat we had to fight back, we wouldn’t compromise, nor would we relent. I watched on as policemen boxed hoards of students against the barricade on one side of the Kurfürstendamm and brutally beat them with their nightsticks. The shrill screams of young women and men were haunting, but there could be no other way; they deserved to be punished.
It was almost half past eight. I’d been tipped off about riots breaking out near the Deutsche Oper, so I slipped away to help out. I pushed through the crowds, my hearing was muffled and anyone two metres in front of me was blurred. My clammy hands were grasped to my pistol, paranoid that someone would lash out, policeman or revolutionary. There was a gap in the crowd and I headed for it, desperate to escape the commotion. I had reached the Oper, ran round the back and caught my breath for a moment before I faced the next crowd of protestors. I leant against one of the pillars, and heard footsteps pounding on the concrete behind me. We both stopped, staring at each other.
A young man with dark hair was stood in front of me, trembling. He looked like a student, a liberal type. Beads of sweat were forming on his brow. No words were exchanged. The silence was painful. He stepped out as if to run at me. My heart sank. I didn’t know if he was going to attack me but I couldn’t take the risk. He ran closer and closer until I raised my hand and shot. I shot the bastard. He was lying in a pool of blood, still and tranquil. I was transfixed. But at the same time, the overwhelming sense of relief and remorselessness pulsed through my body; I felt accomplished, like I had protected the city from another bloody liberal. But as his body lay in the courtyard, I caught sight of a couple of bystanders in the distance; among them was my superior, yelling ‘Why the bloody hell did you shoot, Kurras? Get out of here!’
Without a second thought, I ran as fast as I could until I collapsed outside the stairwell of my flat. Thoughts of dread escalated through my mind. I couldn’t breathe. I had to cover it up, make it seem like I’d been provoked or threatened, like I had to protect myself, like it was a life or death situation.
But what would I tell Martha?