|about Bernhard Wilden| | study in China| |last stay at home| |last days of his life| |message about his death|

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When my husband arrived at the German Embassy in Beijing, he was greeted as if he were present there to attend a business meeting. Although they offered condolences, they were cold and business-like. The circumstances were even more un-kind at the university and when dealing with the Chinese authorities.

Bernhard's father met with a wall of indifferent silence, even open hostility. When asked for details of his son's sudden death, my husband was told nothing in return. He was denied access to professors and students at the university and to all others known to Bernhard. When Bernhard's father produced a photograph of his son and a Chinese professor, my husband was told that no such professor existed, nor was he able to visit the site of his son's death.

Our son's death certificate was issued in Chinese. It read simply: “Bernhard Armand Wilden was found dead under the fire protection staircase of the building at the Mining University, dying as a result of acute haemorrhage and traumatic shock resulting from a fall from high altitude.”

This certification was translated in English:


At that time we had no idea where this Mining University was located. Many months later we learned that it is located very near to the BLCU and as such were an area very well known to Bernhard who would have been familiar with the buildings on this part of the campus. Once we learned how very close was this site to Bernhard's own university, we realized that it would have been very easy for his father to visit the place of his son's death and so it was all the more inconceivable to us as to why the authorities forbade this visit.

While there in Beijing, my husband called upon the pastor of the Southern Catholic Church in the city (known as the Nantang Church). Bernhard visited this church the first time he travelled to China and went there many times while living in the People's Republic. In his four years there, beginning in 2002, Bernhard attended Church here regularly and was very active in the spiritual and social life of the parish. Both his father and I had been there several times during our own visits to Bernhard in China and the local pastor already knew us well.

The good pastor at the Nantang Church was shocked and saddened to learn of Bernhard's death. He had not heard of it before my husband's arrival there and was very quick to reassure my husband that the circumstances of Bernhard's death could never have been a suicide.

While in Beijing, my husband was permitted to visit Bernhard's room where he lived. There he found two dozen small blue boxes. At first he did not understand what these were for but soon after coming home and seeing others in Bernhard's room here we realized that these must have been the containers for little blue books given out by the Nantang Church to the faithful. Perhaps Bernhard was helping to distribute them.

Bernhard kept a daily journal. My husband found this in his room the day of his visit there. Most of the entrees in the diary were written in Chinese but some were annotated in German. The last German language entry was dated 31 March 2006 and read: “I spent today with Wang Ying at the theological institute in the vicinity of my university.”

The last entry was dated 24 June 2006 and is written in Chinese.

After 24 June 2006 Bernhard wrote no longer in his journal but rather chose to write his daily notes on slips of paper, many of these were found in various places in his room. Most of these were written in Chinese but there were a few of these informal entrees in German. As my husband prepared to leave behind Bernhard's room, he gathered all written materials, both in loose form and in diary form. He also found Bernhard's cell phone, the battery inoperable, on a side table, which he also brought home to Germany.

Soon it became evident that there were difficulties to bring our son's earthly remains back to Germany for burial. It would have been an unbearable sorrow for us both to have to leave our beloved son in China to be buried there or to leave behind his body without first having arranged for a proper funeral. I presented my husband with my own power of attorney so that he could do what he considered best, because contact with my husband once he arrived in China became almost impossible due to the occurrence of a severe earthquake a few days before throughout Southeast Asia. Normal phone contact was difficult (only possible from the hotel room phone) and cell phone (mobile phone) connections had ceased between China and the west during this difficult time.

During these days, my husband met with Chinese officials in a medical institut. He was seated at a large round table and none of the officials present introduced themselves to him. No German embassy officials attended either, and so my husband was left unsupported by his own country in this meeting. The only support found was the presence of one of Bernhard's associates who accompanied my husband and who was able to translate the conversation for him. During this meeting, my husband asked if the circumstances of Bernhard's death could not have been accident related, which only caused the Chinese to become severely unnerved and uncomfortable.

Just prior to asking this question, the officials had presented our son’s clothes to my husband by simply shifting them across the table in a bundle.  Once he presented his question to them, however, they took the clothing back. 

A supervisor was summoned and a page of paper containing Chinese text was forced before my husband. He was told that he would be required to sign a statement declaring that he would 'confess' that no further questions would be forthcoming. The officials further demanded that my husbands interpreter surrounded her passport but she did not give it to them.

It was at this time that my husband was informed that if legal proceedings were being considered, Bernhard's body would not be released to us. It was clear that this embargo would be permanent if my husband did not agree to their demands. Knowing that it would be impossible for us to leave our son in China, un-buried and un-protected, my husband signed the decree he did not even comprehend. Bernhard's clothes and personal belongings were returned to his father ~ including his winter jacket, hat and his eyeglasses. As soon as he was able, my husband informed me by telephone of what had happened. It is impossible to explain the profound sorrow and horror this caused us both, me in Germany alone, and my husband un-supported in hostile Beijing.

The Chinese quickly cremated our son's earthly remains, a red wooden Chinese urn being presented to my husband before he left for home. Our son's cremains (ashes) returned home to Germany in this red box in the luggage of his father on 30 December 2006.

We learned soon after my husband left Beijing that the Chinese authorities had actually investigated to be certain that he had left the country.

A year would pass before we would learn that the body and face of our late son showed no marks or injuries of any sort!

Although Bernhard according to the Chinese death certification should have bleed to death resulting from fall from height, at his jacket and his cap, which our son had whith him when he died there was no blood, not one drop. A completely unharmed face, no blood on the clothes and no violation in a fall from height? We also realized that although he was suppose to have fallen from a great height, not one drop of blood was spilt on the clothes he had been wearing at the time of death.

It was a long time before I was able to look into Bernhard's suitcase but when I did so, I found his eyeglasses. They were badly damaged but not in the manner they would have been damaged from a fall from great heights and moreover there was no blood at all on them.

Why was Bernhard's body not returned to Germany as we desired? Why could the Chinese not simply embalm the body by acceptable methods so that he could be returned home as we wanted?

Since we all had real doubts that Bernhard had fallen at all, could it not be the Chinese's way of hiding the fact that he died under mysterious circumstances. Perhaps they knew that once the body returned to the West, the truth would come out.

We continued to wonder to ourselves as to what happened to our son. Were there skull injuries that were not visible outside the body, but which caused our son's death? Could these have occurred from injuries not related to a fall at all? Could there have been an act of malice against him?

Eventually the Chinese authorities were forced to address these questions. They spoke only of head injuries (more about these statements and Bernhard's father's visit to the PSB later). Many questions remained unanswered such as 'why his glasses were completely destroyed and how did Bernhard actually die?' There are no answers to these questions since the Chinese rushed to the cremation.