The 7 Most Spectacular Escapes across the Berlin Wall

The 7 Most Spectacular Escapes across the Berlin Wall

From 1961 to 1989, East Berliners tried all sorts of more or less spectacular escapes to get away from the totalitarian regime at all costs. In a climate of fear and horror set up by the Soviet powers in Berlin. By road, by water or by air, many people have tried the experiment - alas, most often to no avail. However, some of the inhabitants of East Berlin have distinguished themselves by their creativity in trying everything to reach the "free world"! 

Here's the story of the 7 most heroic and spectacular escapes from East Berlin! 

1. The Leap to Freedom 

At the very beginning, before the wall was impassable and became the military complex it was, employing more than 14,000 guards, it was just a demarcation on the ground with barbed wire. So that in the beginning, most escapes were made by "simply" crossing the wall. 

One of the most famous is the soldier Hans Conrad Schumann. While stationed on the eastern side of the border, he began to doubt very ferociously about the future of the eastern side and the construction of the Wall. For good reason, he witnessed a scene in which a little girl on holiday at her grandmother's house in East Berlin asks to join her parents who live on the other side of the barbed wire but is prevented from doing so by the soldiers on duty. On August 15, at the corner of Ruppiner Straße and Bernauer Straße on the western side of the street, people shouted Komm rüber! ("Come to this side!"); despite the fear of being shot by his colleagues, he chose his side and jumped over the barbed wire. 

The photograph travels around the world and becomes one of the most famous images of the Cold War.

2. An idea to dig up 

In the years 1962-1964, tunnel escape became "relatively" common. Indeed, in 1962 alone, there were three successful tunnel escapes: on January 24, 1962, 26 escapes, on May 5, 1962, 12 escapes, and in September 1962, 29 escapees passed under the Wall. For the 1964 escape, the tunnel was dug by thirty-five students who took turns day and night for almost six months.

3. A magician never reveals his tricks! 

Perhaps not as spectacular as the others but this technique had the merit of being extremely creative! A Frenchman wishing to bring his sweet, East German lady to the West had the idea of joining two suitcases linked together by a hole. The young woman lies down in the two suitcases, which are then closed. During the control, the police officers only see a heavy load of suitcases and let the couple through! 

4. The Beetles

Kurt Wordel tinkered with the front trunk of three Volkswagen 1'200 Beetles so as to sneak no less than 55 people through in 2 years! 

5. A zip line?! 

In 1965, this father allowed himself, his wife and child to be locked up in an administrative building in East Berlin, very close to the Wall. At nightfall, he climbed onto the roof and threw a heavy hammer as far as he could, surrounded by rags and tied to a rope. Some of his comrades retrieved the tool and attached a rope to the rope, which he brought back to him. With the help of a harness topped by a wheel, he slid his little family along the rope before escaping himself.

6. A hot air balloon?! 

Sometimes to go unnoticed, the best technique is to see the big picture! In 1979, on the night of Saturday 15 to Sunday 16 September, two families from East Germany (8 people in all) took advantage of a favourable wind to leave the East to the West in just 30 minutes. This success is the fruit of two years of tests including many failures! The makeshift boat had been built in one of the families' cellars and consisted of a sheet metal floor, a few iron bars, four propane bottles, and canvas tents sewn together.

7. A cow? 

Another escape technique consisted in using a cow. In the back of a van on the transit highway between West Germany and West Berlin, the organizers of this escape picked up East Germans who paid quite an amount (5,000 marks in advance, 5,000 marks more later if the escape is successful) and hid them inside the cow. They would then pass through the border crossings into West Berlin or West Germany, depending on their direction of travel, telling the border guards that they were only carrying an exhibit when the vehicle was searched. This ruse fooled the border guards twice but was later discovered when the plot was betrayed.

Raphaëlle Radermecker


With a curious personality and a passion for well-chosen words, writing and discovery are my two passions. Berlin intrigues and fascinates me, with its cultural and artistic richness, its modernity and its ability to constantly renew itself.

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