Two dangling strands of barbed wire have haunted Olaf Hetze for over a quarter century, since his failed attempt to escape from the Communist bloc, not by going over the Berlin Wall but around it by a little-known route through Bulgaria.
Mr. Hetze still believes that he and his girlfriend, Barbara Hille, might have made it if he had managed to cover their tracks better, trimming the loose ends after cutting the top wire of a border fence. If he had, Mr. Hetze said in an interview at his home in Munich earlier this year, he might never have seen the shooting stars of tracer bullets arcing across the night sky, or had to watch his girlfriend twist in the air and fall to the ground, blood rushing out of a life-threatening wound to her shoulder.
But the dangling wire was far from the only reason they failed.
Thanks to the work of a dedicated German researcher, the full extent of the escape attempts through Bulgaria, and the danger, is just now coming to light. At least 4,500 people tried to escape over the Bulgarian border during the cold war, estimated the researcher, Stefan Appelius, a professor of political science at Oldenburg University. Of those, he believes that at least 100 were killed, but no official investigation has ever been undertaken.