Ingenious Great Escapes Of
The Berlin Wall

BERLIN (AFP) - German citizens showed extraordinary audacity and imagination in their efforts to overcome the Berlin Wall and escape from East Germany. More than 40,000 in all succeeded in doing so.
The museum devoted to the history of the Wall, situated at the most famous crossing point between East and West, Checkpoint Charlie, is a testament to these sometimes almost incredible exploits.
Vehicles were often used, such as an old Volkswagen "beetle" on exhibit, its fuel tank modified to allow someone totally hunched and doubled-up to hide in there.
An estimated 300 people escaped by this means: under the back seat, in a false floor or even strapped underneath the vehicle. This meant having to endure extreme discomfort for hours on end, without a cough or a sneeze which might alert the East German border guards.
As the Volkspolizei (Vopos), the German police, discovered such hiding places, others had to be found. A woman artist from Magdeburg hid herself in the loudspeaker cabinet of a visiting Dutch singer. A Frenchman hid his fiancee inside a large suitcase.
The walls of the museum are covered with pictures of lovers ready to take any risks to meet up with each other again -- even at the expense of others.
One West German separated from his East German girlfriend went to the trouble of seducing a West German who resembled her. He then took the woman for a weekend to East Berlin where he stole her papers and passed them to his girlfriend, allowing the latter to escape to the West.
Many of these escapes under the noses of the East German authorities required reliable accomplices. In the first two years of the Wall, hundreds of people on both sides helped in the escapes quite disinterestedly.
But people like the West German Kurt Woldert, who helped 55 fugitives, gradually gave place to commercial enterprises.
A favourite method was the underground tunnel, because it made a mass escape possible. In 1964, 57 people were able to escape in one go from the cellar of a house near the Wall. About 10 different escape tunnels in all were dug.
Others chose to plunge into the Spree river which winds its way through the Berlin city centre, coinciding at some points with the dividing line of the Wall. But in 1965 the East German authorities installed metal spikes in the water over a distance of 25 kilometres (17 miles) and hidden just below the surface.
Hundreds attempted to take a marine route via the Baltic Sea, and about 40 succeeded, including a diving instructor who built his own miniature submarine with which he was able to reach Denmark after a five-hour voyage.
Among the most ingenious escape devices was a makeshift cable-car or ski-lift system which allowed a whole family to abseil over the Wall on a wire stretched from the toilets of a ministry building.
At least 250 people died in Berlin alone, many of them shot at the Wall, and 960 died trying to escape East Germany as a whole. The last of these was Chris Gueffroy, who died in February 1989, nine months before the Wall fell, as he tried to climb over the barbed wire.


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