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Top Three Remarkable Escapes Across the Berlin Wall After WW2

1940s | August 31, 2017

After the Second World War, around 2.5 million East Germans fled to West Germany. This bothered East Germany as they already lost almost a sixth of their population. To stop the exodus, they closed the borders between East and West Germany and erected the Berlin wall.

Soldiers manned the barriers and were ordered to shoot anyone crossing the border. The Wall was largely effective, afraid for their lives, people stopped from leaving. However, there are still some who made extraordinary brave attempts to go over, under, around or through the Berlin Wall.

1. Escaping Through Hot Air Balloon

Coworkers Peter Strelzyk and Gunter Wetzel wanted to flee to West Germany, however they could not think of a way to go across the border without getting killed. When Wetzel’s sister visited, she brought a magazine that had an article about hot air balloons. This gave Wetzel the idea of building one they could use to get over the border.

Wetzel told Strelzyk his idea and the two started designing their escape vehicles with the help of an instruction book. The first two attempts failed, but the third one worked. So one midnight, the duo gathered their family onto the highest nearby hill and had them huddled in the untested hot air balloon. It floated towards West Germany, but as they approached the border, searchlights turned on them, luckily they’ve already traveled quite a distance so the lights could not reach them anymore.

The flame on their balloon went out as they ran out of gas. The balloon soared downwards and crashed into the ground. They were not sure whether they’ve landed in West Germany or was still in the East. They started walking and came across a policeman who confirmed that they successfully reached the West side of the border.

2. Escaping through Cables

Horst Klein, a pofessional trapeze artist, was an outspoken anti-communist so it was easy to see why he wanted to escape East Germany.

He chose to flee via the power cables linking the two cities. He climbed the electricity pole and climbed onto the cable. It was terrifying for him - if he touched the tower and the cable at the same time, he’d be burned into ashes…and if the East German soldiers spotted him, he’d be killed too.

As he crossed from one tower to the next, he saw two German guards patrolling behind him. Luckily for him, he was above the beams of the searchlights so he couldn’t be seen.

On his last tower, he used the rope that he had coiled around himself to try to lower himself onto the western side. Unfortunately, his hands had numbed in the cold and he was unable to get a good grip of the rope. He fell 12 meters inside the western border, incurred two broken arms but was healthy and safe otherwise.

3. Driving a Train Through the Barriers

Harry Deterling was a known critic of the East German government. When they threatened him to be sent to a work camp, he knew he will have to escape soon.

Deterling, a train engineer, heard that that train rails still connected East and West Berlin, but they were about to get dismantled soon. He asked a friend, Harmut Lucy, to help him with his escape plan.

He told his family and friends about his plan and 24 of them joined him on the train. Deterling chose a train route that would bring him closest to the border. As Deterling approached the train’s designated spot, he did not slow down, instead he hit the throttle.

As the train thundered and crashed through the barriers, Deterling and Lichy took refuge in the cool reserve while their family and friends threw themselves on the floor. They skidded to a halt in West Germany and no one was hurt in their escape attempt.

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