Berlin Wall shooting video game angers victims' relatives

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German student has created a computer game giving players a taste of life as an East German border guard shooting political fugitives fleeing to the West, to the outrage of victims’ relatives.

A general view, taken from Western Germany shows the wall and watch tower at the former East German border in the village of Moedlareuth, about 300 kilometres (186 miles) south of Berlin, March 12, 1978. The Wall in the village of Moedlareuth, separating East from West Germany, was built in 1966. It was 700 meters long and 3.40 meters high, heavily guarded round the clock by East German border police and divided the village till the Wall came down in 1989. During this time Moedlareuth was also known as "Little Berlin". REUTERS/Handout/Bayrische Grenzpolizei/Mediathek des Deutsch-Deutschen Museum Moedlareuth

The game “1378” -- the length in kilometers of the border between East and West Germany in the Cold War -- awards border guards who shoot an exceptional number of escapees a medal. They then find themselves in the year 2000, on trial for the shootings they carried out in the name of the East German Communist regime.

Players can also take on the role of East German fugitives trying to escape over the Berlin Wall. If caught, they are either shot or arrested and taken to prison.

Jens Stober, the 23-year-old who created the game as part of his university degree, said it had an educational aspect.

“Becoming an East German escapee or border guard enables players to identify with these figures,” he said. “It’s a novel way of encouraging young people to take an interest in coming to terms with recent German history.”

But the Federal Foundation for the Reconciliation of the Communist Dictatorship said that while it welcomed different ways to come to terms with the 1949-1989 regime, it doubted young people would learn anything by shooting dissidents.

“Ultimately it’s just an ego-shooter game, which is unacceptable given the historical context,” said Dietrich Wolf, spokesman for the foundation.

Theodor Mettrup of the Association for Victims of Communist Tyranny said the game “makes a mockery of the victims.”

“The shootings at the wall were no game -- they destroyed people’s lives and families. But people playing this game won’t get a sense of that,” he told Reuters.

The game is due to be released on Sunday, the 20th anniversary of German reunification.

An estimated 1,000 East German citizens were killed trying to escape after the Wall was built in 1961. East German border guards were under instruction to shoot anyone trying to flee. The last East German to be shot crossing the border was Chris Gueffroy in February 1989.

Editing by Steve Addison