Map with bullet hole and photograph of Walter Flex




The corners of this handcrafted map are covered in mud. And there is a hole – apparently from a bullet. This bullet probably ended the life of one of World War One’s most outstanding German writers, Walter Flex. Flex was a war volunteer and author of the widely read war novel Wanderer Zwischen Beiden Welten (The Wanderer Between Two Worlds, 1916), written after his best friend had been killed in the field.

Trees, swampland, lakes, villages and cottages are all marked on this map of the Baltic island Saaremaa, offshore from Estonia and at the time under Russia. Flex and his division had landed in October 1917 and after three days of struggling, the Russians surrendered their arms. All but one soldier surrendered their arms: the remaining man refused and shot Flex down. The bullet tore his right forefinger off, entered his body and became lodged near his stomach. He wrote a last line: ‘Dear parents! I dictate this postcard as I’m slightly wounded at the forefinger of my right hand. Besides this, I am well off. There’s no room for worry whatsoever. Love, Walter.’ He died the next day, aged just 30, due to his internal injuries.

This map was found in Flex’s bag and it is now part of his literary remains that are kept in the manuscript department of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.


An den Ecken einer handgefertigten Landkarte klebt noch der Matsch. Und sie hat ein Loch - offenbar das Einschussloch einer Kugel.

Diese Kugel hat wahrscheinlich das Leben eines der bedeutendsten deutschen Schriftsteller des Ersten Weltkrieges beendet: Walter Flex, Kriegsfreiwilliger der Ersten Stunde, schrieb die millionenfach gelesene Erzählung „Wanderer zwischen beiden Welten“, nachdem sein bester Freund gefallen war.

Die Orts- und Flurnamen auf der Landkarte verraten es: sie zeigt Bäume, Sümpfe, Seen, Dörfer und Häuser auf der baltischen Insel Ösel, die Estland vorgelagert ist, aber damals zu Russland gehörte. Walter Flex war im Oktober 1917 mit seiner Division auf der Insel gelandet, um die Russen zu schlagen. Nach drei Tagen waren die Kämpfe beendet, die Russen ergaben sich und sollten ihre Waffen abliefern. Nur einer weigerte sich und schoss auf Walter Flex. Die Kugel riss ihm den rechten Zeigefinger ab und drang dann in seinen Leib ein. Sein letztes Lebenszeichen: „Liebe Eltern! Diese Karte diktiere ich, weil ich am Zeigefinger der rechten Hand leicht verwundet bin. Sonst geht es mir sehr gut. Habt keinerlei Sorge. Viele herzliche Grüße Euer Walter.“ Am nächsten Tag starb er, gerade 30-jährig, an seinen inneren Verwundungen.

In seiner Tasche steckte eine Landkarte der Insel Ösel. Sie ist heute Bestandteil des Nachlasses Walter Flex in der Handschriftenabteilung der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

Full title
Map with bullet hole from the remains of Walter Flex
Map / Photograph / Manuscript
Held by
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin
Usage Terms
Free from known copyright restrictions

Related articles

Wounding in World War One

Article by
Julie Anderson
Race, empire and colonial troops, Life as a soldier

World War One created thousands of casualties from physical wounds, illness, and emotional trauma. Dr Julie Anderson reflects on the subsequent impact on the role of doctors and nurses, and the medical treatment, organisation and new technologies that they employed.

Prose responses to World War One

Article by
Vincent Trott
Representation and memory

How did prose authors represent World War One? From works of optimism and patriotism to disillusionment and criticism, Vincent Trott looks at a range of voices from across Europe.

Related collection items


Mapping the First World War

Mapping the First World War

A fascinating and unique insight into the planning and organisation of military campaigns, featuring over a hundred maps and charts.


The Great War: 1914-1918

The Great War 1914 to 1918

Combining cutting edge scholarship with vivid and unfamiliar eyewitness accounts, from kings and generals, and ordinary soldiers, this is a pioneering and comprehensive account of the First World War.