A Difficult Decision

Werner Coch grew up in East Germany, but maintained close contact with his relatives in West Germany. He spent his vacation in Bremen and Hamburg on several occasions. In the summer of 1961, Werner Coch, who at the time was studying chemical engineering at the Technical University in Dresden, happened to be traveling through Western Europe. That was not allowed in East Germany, but that didn’t bother Werner Coch or many others who were traveling illegally.

On a Sunday in Heidelberg -- it was August 13, 1961 -- Werner Coch noticed the newspaper headlines announcing that Berlin had been sealed off. He had graduated from high school in 1959 and was now a university student. He had been traveling through West Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France since July 17, 1961. Suddenly, he was suddenly faced with the dilemma of whether or not to end his travels and return to Germany. Werner Coch knew that if he stayed in the West he would have to repeat his high school final exams and start his studies over again. This and a message from his parents led him to decide to return home on August 24. But it was not long before he came to regret his decision. When the new semester began, the students were put under pressure to sign a statement agreeing to voluntarily serve in the East German army if the state called upon them to enlist. Werner Coch was one of two students who didn’t want to give in to the pressure. But after being locked in a lecture hall for several hours, and after trying to reword and weaken the demanded statement, he ultimately signed his name to it. After that Werner Coch began to think about how he could get to the West.

His first plan to escape in February 1962 with a fake passport didn’t work out. Half a year later, he was detained temporarily in Poland when he tried to acquire information from the consulate in Danzig about ways to escape. An attempt to escape to the West through a tunnel at Brunnenstrasse 45 also failed. The Ministry for State Security had discovered the tunnel and he was arrested there. He was held in a remand prison of the State Security Service for five months and repeatedly interrogated. He was not permitted to have contact with his parents and was only provided an attorney at the time of the trial. Werner Coch was found guilty of attempting to flee the republic and sentenced to a year and nine months in prison. He served his sentence in a penitentiary in Bützow-Dreibergen in the state of Mecklenburg.

After his release in November 1964 and a period of “probation in production,” he was able to continue his studies again in Dresden in the fall of 1965. After graduating, he worked as a chemical engineer.

Maria Nooke



The consequences of returning to East Germany

From an interview on July 9, 1999, Berlin Wall Memorial (in German)