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Illustration: Anhalter Heinrich, vor einer Tankstelle.


The Hitchhiker

Stand: 28.05.2021, 14:47 Uhr

A cigarette-smoking guy with a huge baseball cap is trying to get a lift at a petrol station on the outskirts of Cologne. He is on crutches and immediately starts telling the story of his life to everybody who cares to listen: his name is Heinrich, he says. His whole childhood and teenage years he was locked up - in a psychiatric ward. For more than 14 years.

There, far away from German society and the economic miracle of the 50s and 60s, he was beaten and abused. Heinrich has never recovered from this. He has tried to take back his life but failed. No job, no money, no place to live, no friends. Just country roads and highways. After 40 years of hitchhiking and homelessness, he now only has one final destination: death. He wants to kill himself with the help of an assisted suicide at Dignitas in Zürich. His life is over anyway: the baseball cap hides a huge brain tumour.  It’s terminal, he says.

It’s this story that Heinrich tells to both journalists Sven Preger and Stephan Beuting quite independently, once in October 2013 and once in September 2014. They both meet him at the same place: the petrol station in Cologne. When the two reporters by chance find out that they met this same guy with the same story, they decide to find Heinrich. If his story is only partially true, then he is one of thousands who until today have not been compensated for their suffering. But how do you find a homeless person who is probably dead by now?

After 18 months of investigative research the two reporters can tell Heinrich’s story. Of his life, his family, his sufferings and his survival strategies. And they can prove his story is true. Kind of.

In June 2016 five episodes (each 30 minutes) were broadcast for the first time by WDR. The two reporters follow Heinrich’s tracks and finally find him (episode 1: Last Exit Zurich), they check out what happened to Heinrich and others during the 50s and 60s in a psychiatric ward and find proof that he really was there (episode 2: Closed Institution), investigate Heinrich’s family background and the reasons he was in an institution in the first place (episode 3: Bollocks), how Heinrich left the ward and tried to get a grip on his life, but ended up living on the streets for decades, forming the narrative of his life (episode 4: Hitchhiker’s Rides) and finally confronts the perpetrators (episode 5: Pay Day).

Up to this time no official compensation had ever been offered to the victims. That changed at the beginning of 2017 when a new trust was founded in Germany, called ‘Recognition and Help’. But it took months for the trust to really get started. Finally, from summer 2017 onwards, the victims could apply for compensation. The sixth and final part of the hitchhiker-documentary (episode 6: That’s it then) tells the last chapter of the story and answers the final questions: will Heinrich be compensated? And if he succeeds – what will he do with a sum of money he has probably never had before (up to 14.000 €)? Is there any chance for Heinrich to find some peace? And what about his last living relatives?

Anhalter Heinrich mit Autor Stephan Beuting

Episode 1: Last Exit Zurich
Heinrich has already had a long life, he says, he has travelled too much. Now he is on another journey, and this one will be the last. Heinrich is on his way to Dignitas in Zurich. He wants to put an end to it all: he wants help to die.

The hitchhiker Episode 1 - Last Exit Zurich

WDR 5 Tiefenblick: Der Anhalter 03.01.2019 27:44 Min. Verfügbar bis 30.12.2099 WDR 5 Von Stephan Beuting and Sven Preger

Anhalter Heinrich

Episode 2: Closed Institution
Clean and well fed. That´s all children could expect in psychiatric wards in Germany in the 1950s and '60s. It wasn´t so much about the well-being of the children as about control and order. A closed system ruled by fear.

The hitchhiker Episode 2: Closed Institution

29:14 Min. Verfügbar bis 30.12.2099 Von Stephan Beuting and Sven Preger

Anhalter Heinrich

Episode 3: Such nonsense
Heinrich Kurzrock confronts his own past. He finally goes to the psychiatric clinic of the former St. Johannes order. Today it is a modern psychiatric institution for young people, but back then for Heinrich it was hell on earth.

The hitchhiker Episode 3: Such nonsense

WDR 5 Tiefenblick: Der Anhalter 03.01.2019 29:15 Min. Verfügbar bis 30.12.2099 WDR 5 Von Stephan Beuting and Sven Preger

Anhalter Heinrich

Episode 4: Ridesharing
After his childhood in the psychiatric institution in Marsberg, Heinrich Kurzrock lived on the streets: a life as a hitch-hiker, dropped off, picked up, off on the road again and again. Heinrich learnt one thing: how to survive.

The hitchhiker Episode 4: Ridesharing

WDR 5 Tiefenblick: Der Anhalter 03.01.2019 29:14 Min. Verfügbar bis 30.12.2099 WDR 5 Von Stephan Beuting and Sven Preger

Anhalter Heinrich mit Autor Stephan Beuting beim Kaffee an der Tankstelle

Hitchhiker Heinrich with author Stephan Beuting

Episode 5: Payday
A hitch-hiker and his story - that´s how everything started: at the Cologne motorway junction. But what will become of Heinrich now? The victim of institutionalized abuse. Will those who were in charge accept their responsibility? Heinrich has one last big wish.

Selfie mit Anhalter, v.l.n.r. Stephan Beuting, Heinrich Kurzrock, Angela Müller und Sven Preger

Selfie with hitchhiker, Stephan Beuting, Heinrich Kurzrock, Angela Müller and Sven Preger

Episode 6: That’s it then  
In January 2017, the foundation "Recognition and Help” is officially set up. More than 50 years after the abuse and violence in German psychiatric institutions, it will pay compensation to victims like Heinrich. But that is not as easy as it sounds. 

The hitch-hiker Heinrich Kurzrock died on Februrary 7th 2019. The authors Sven Preger and Stephan Beuting want to express their heartfelt condolences.

First broadcast date: February, 10th 2019
Poducer Stephan Beuting and Sven Preger
Commissioning Editor: Leslie Rosin
Produktion: WDR 2016/2019