The girl in this picture is Marienetta Jirkowsky. She was born in Bad Saarow near Berlin on 25th August 1962 and died in hospital in Hohen Neuendorf on 22nd November 1980 a few hours after being shot in the stomach while attempting to cross the Wall into West Berlin with her boyfriend and another man. They both made it over the Wall but Marienetta who was only just over five feet tall could not scramble up onto the Wall despite her boyfriend’s desperate attempts to pull her up. As guards came and opened fire on the defenceless young woman he threw himself off the Wall onto the western side..
Marienetta died twice. After her death the Stasi worked on her family to portray her not as a victim of an unjust system but as a worthless trollop who associated with criminals and who deserved what she got. Photographs of her were seized for fear they might fall into the hands of the Western media. This picture is one of the few that were believed to have survived although many of the confiscated pictures were discovered in the Stasi archives as recently as 2010. The Stasi action was successful and Marienetta was posthumously disowned by many of her own family and by people in the small town of Spreenhagen where she grew up.
It has been left to others to remember. In 2010 the town of Hohen Neuendorf named a new roundabout situated just yards away from the spot where she was shot Marienetta – Jirkowsky- Platz in her memory. Members of her family (not her parents who were both dead) fought to stop this arguing that it was an invasion of her privacy but the argument that remembering victims of the Wall cannot be considered a private matter won.
I mention this case simply because Marienetta was my age and because she died less than six months before I first visited Berlin. All the stories of those who died are tragic but this one is somehow closest to me. Whilst they are all remembered in a daily service in the Reconciliation Church built in the former no man’s land behind the Wall in the Bernauer Strasse the actual Wall itself has largely disappeared, most of it, of course, in the first two or three years after it came down on 9th November 1989.
Few sections of the Wall now remain in their original location. One of the best known is the so-called East Side Gallery on the banks of the Spree not far from the Ostbanhhof. Here the Wall was built back to front with no man’s land of barbed wire and raked sand on the western side, on the banks of the Spree which, at this point, formed the border. The actual Wall runs down one side of the Muhlenstrasse and it was here that some of the world’s most famous street art. was created, street art with a serious purpose. Like this:
Now work has begun to remove part of this section of Wall to create access to riverside flats for wealthy incomers. Only a section admittedly but with so little remaining, particularly in the central areas visited by tourists it is unfortunate. That Berlin is losing much of the alternative edginess that made it interesting is perhaps an inevitable consequence if it being the capital. It must not, however, lose its memory, of the Wall and of its 136 victims including one of the youngest, an 18 year old apprentice named Marienetta Jirkowsky.