EAST BERLIN -- It is a particularly poignant reminder of the cruelty of the Berlin Wall and the communist regime it guarded: a white, wooden cross on a chain-link fence near the Brandenburg Gate. The cross reads, "Chris Geoffrey/6.2.89".
It is the last in a succession of such crosses dating to the wall's construction in 1961, and Geoffrey was the last who tried to cross it. Machine-gun fire from East German border guards ended his attempt -- and his life. Only nine months later, he could have joined millions of his fellow East Germans crossing the border freely into West Germany.
While the wall has now been dismembered for souvenirs, East Germans cannot forget those, like Geoffrey, murdered because of it. If the survivors have a mind for revenge, it will be to hunt down the culprits.
Our sources here say investigators from the East German prosecutor general's office are combing records of the East German Army and border guards, as well as of the dreaded "Stasi," or secret police.
They seek to identify those who gave the orders -- as well as the trigger men -- to shoot escapees. They plan to try not just guards but even leaders like Erich Honecker, who ruled from 1971 until he was ousted last October.
Of course, not all guards followed the "shoot-to-kill" orders. Although they were an elite force picked for supposed loyalty to communist leaders, 2,700 of them fled to the West at the first chance. Others looked the other way when comrades tried to flee to freedom. Each border post had two men so one could shoot the other if he didn't do his duty.
The wall was a uniquely infamous edifice. Unlike China's Great Wall or Hadrian's Wall in England, Berlin's wall wasn't built to keep people out. It kept them in. It was illegal to cross without a visa, which were rarely issued.
It ran 103 miles around West Berlin, a West German enclave 110 miles inside East Germany. The wall was actually two walls in many places; between them lay a death strip, up to 300 yards wide. Anyone making it over the first wall had to run a gantlet of land mines, attack dogs, spikes in the ground and automatic devices that sprayed shrapnel.
West German sources say at least 191 Germans were killed while attempting to escape from the East. At least 82 of these were butchered along the Berlin Wall. Each death sparked furious demonstrations across the wall. One of the most memorable, in 1962, followed the shooting of a 19-year-old as he made his way toward Checkpoint Charlie, the only passage for vehicles crossing the border.
The teen bled to death in full view of scores of foreign correspondents, security officials and West Berliners. Not long afterward, an anonymous shot from a West Berlin apartment killed the border guard believed to have been responsible.
Besides those killed, at least 5,000 more were captured and imprisoned for attempting to escape. Some, freed since last year's whirlwind changes, will testify against guards who killed fleeing comrades.