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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Man Who 'Built' the Wall

BERLIN — Hagen Koch remembers vividly his bitter hatred of Americans and fear that they would re-ignite war in Germany. That passion made him an enthusiastic participant in building the Berlin Wall 40 years ago on Aug. 13, 1961.

"I drew the dividing line at the Checkpoint Charlie border," said 61-year-old Koch, who worked for 30 years for the Stasi secret police and had experience in map-making.

Koch's story of boyhood World War II trauma, his adult embrace of Communism and eventual disillusion serves as a parable of East German history, a society that embraced the Berlin Wall but eventually crumbled as the hard-line vanguard of the Soviet bloc.

East German leader Walter Ulbricht proposed closing the border in the spring of 1961. In early August, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave his vital approval, by which time 2.5 million East Germans had fled since 1949.

Koch had joined the Stasi in 1960, seeing the brutal secret police organization as the embodiment of socialist virtue. "As a child, I learned that war is capitalism, peace is socialism. I closed off everything else that did not correspond with this," he said.

"In my eyes, the Stasi was in the frontline against capitalism and war," he said. He became a model young communist and soon joined the Stasi.

On Aug. 13, 1961, the day the border was sealed, Koch noticed soldiers marching near the city's dividing line. Days later he was summoned and ordered to use his map-making skills to draw up delineations between East and West. The next day he was ordered to hang up maps in the office of Stasi chief Erich Mielke.

In the coming days, Koch surveyed border areas as officials reinforced barbed wire coils and began laying the first blocks of the Wall. He also painted a white line down what was once — and is again today — a busy traffic intersection at Checkpoint Charlie, the U.S. controlled border crossing.

At the time he had no doubts that he and the East German state were doing the right thing.

"We Germans were responsible for World War II. It was the victors who divided us, however," he said.

In 1966, Koch was imprisoned after the Stasi began to suspect that his wife harbored pro-Western sentiments. The Stasi pressured him to divorce his wife — which he obediently did.

"I shall never bow my head that way again," Koch said, his anger about the old system visible.

He did, however, undo the Stasi's efforts to wreck his marriage. The couple remarried in 1967 and are still together.

Koch stayed with the Stasi until a few years before the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Since then he has set up a private archive on the Wall's history.

His research has opened his eyes about the Wall.

"In the archives I read about the naked brutality associated with the Wall," he said.

"It was a crime without a doubt."

Yet Koch said he should not be condemned for his past enthusiasm and his role in the Wall's construction.

"What did I do wrong? I only drew a white line."