The name of Benno Ohnesorg became a rallying cry for the West German left after he was shot dead by police in 1967. Newly discovered documents indicate that the cop who shot him may have been a spy for the East German secret police.
It was one of the most important events leading up to the wave of radical left-wing violence which washed over West Germany in the 1970s. On the evening of June 2, 1967, the literature student Benno Ohnesorg took part in a demonstration at West Berlin's opera house. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, was to attend and the gathered students wanted to call attention to his brutal regime.
The protests, though, got out of hand. Pro-shah demonstrators, some of them flown in from Iran for the occasion, battled with the student protestors. West Berlin police also did their part, brutally beating back the crowd. At 8:30 p.m., a shot was fired, and a short time later the 26-year-old Ohnesorg, having been hit in the back of the head, became the left wing's first martyr.
Now, though, the history of the event may have to be re-written. New documents discovered in the Stasi archive -- the vast collection of files left behind by the East German secret police -- reveal that the policeman who shot Ohnesorg, Karl-Heinz Kurras, could in fact have been a spy for East Germany's communist regime.
The news that the perpetrator of a 1967 shooting was a spy for East Germany's Stasi secret police has sent shockwaves through Germany, shedding new light on the country's postwar history, amid calls for a fresh inquiry.
Former German interior minister, Otto Schily, and Dirk Niebel, general-secretary of Germany's liberal Free Democrats, have called for a new investigation into the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting in 1967 of student activist Benno Ohnesorg.
Schily, who, before becoming a Social Democrat and interior minister, was a Green party activist and defense lawyer for leftist German terrorists, said the new Stasi revelations meant the case had to be "politically and juristically re-evaluated."
"The files require a very precise re-examination," he said.
Niebel of the FDP urged all parties in parliament "without delay to make way for a no-holds-barred inquiry into Stasi involvement in the old West Germany."
Berlin's former SPD mayor, Klaus Schuetz, said the pension claims of the policeman, who shot and killed Ohnesorg, also needed to be reassessed.
The policeman, Karl-Heinz Kurras, is still alive. He's 81 years old and could face a new trial. Charges have already been brought against him by Carl-Wolfgang Holzapfel, head of an organization for the victims of Stalinism.
"There is no statute of limitations on murder," Holzapfel said in a statement released after historians sifting through old files of East Germany's Stasi discovered the link to Kurras.
But, since the files apparently do not contain information suggesting that the Stasi explicitly ordered the liquidation of Ohnesorg, it is unlikely that Kurras would be convicted.
26-year old Benno Ohnesorg was shot dead on June 2, 1967, after demonstrations protesting the visit of the Shah of Iran to Berlin had turned violent.
The bullet came from Kurras who was a West German policeman. After the shooting, he was tried for reckless manslaughter but acquitted due to a lack of evidence.
After the shooting, the Stasi broke off communications with their spy in West Berlin in a final message which read: "Destroy all material. Cease work for now. Event is viewed as very regrettable accident."
The case threw Germany into chaos. Student protests, which so far had been peaceful, took a sharp turn, becoming more radical and violent. The death of Benno Ohnesorg triggered a wave of terror and became the justification for some to take up arms against the state.
The so-called Red Army Faction (RAF) under its leaders, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, began a campaign of violence against Germany's political and business elite, culminating in 1977 in what became known as the "Deutsche Herbst", or German Autumn. The RAF is believed to be responsible for more than 30 murders and only ended its reign of terror in the early 1990s.
Jochen Staadt, a historian and head of research on the former East German communist party at Berlin's Free University, says that the mere possibility that the killing had been planned by the Stasi means that history will have to be re-written.
Editor: Andreas Illmer