Escapes at the Berlin Wall
When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, some people desperately wanted to leave East Berlin. They dug tunnels, created passport schemes, escaped through a stinking sewer, drifted over to the other side in a hot air balloon, hid in a car or simply drove through the Berlin Wall. Read about all the escapes at the Berlin Wall.
Escaping the Berlin Wall
Right after the Berlin Wall was erected people tried their first escapes at the Berlin Wall. The first days in August 1961 it was still possible to find a forgotten spot. And determined people on West Berlin pulled apart the barbed wire to help people from East Berlin with their first escapes at the Berlin Wall. But soon it became more difficult to get out.
Students from the Freie Universitat in West Berlin were the first people that helped students from East Berlin escape. Dettlef Girrman, Dieter Thieme and Dodo Kohler wanted to help their fellow students with escapes at the Berlin Wall. They did this with a passport scheme, climbing in the Berlin sewers and digging the first escape tunnel.
The picture of Conrad Schumann jumping over the Berlin Wall is quite famous. He hangs in mid-air, right between East Berlin and West Berlin. Frozen in time between two countries, one city, with his leg sticking out. Schumann didn’t hate the GDR. But the idea of him shooting other people that would try to flee the GDR was appalling. So he jumped, for the hole world to see.
Hans Meixner was madly in love. But his girl was on the other side of the Berlin Wall. He could visit her in East Berlin, she could never stay with him. So Meixner hid his fiancee and his mother in law in his car, removed the windshield of his ride and drove to Checkpoint Charlie. When he hit the brakes he was in West Berlin, with his fiancee and her mother.
At Bernauer Strasse several people escaped the Berlin Wall, simply by climbing or abseiling out of their window. On the other side of their building was West Berlin. But soon the GDR government boarded up their houses. But the Prenzelbergers didn’t give up. They started building tunnels to get to the Western part of Berlin.
It all sounds very adventurous: building your own hot air balloon to fly over the Berlin Wall. But in reality it was of course very dangerous. Gathering metres of tafetta without people becoming suspicious, building your own burner. Not putting your own balloon on fire. And then, trying to escape with two families. It’s not a story. It happened in 1979.
Invalidenfriedhof used to be a pieceful military graveyard. Until the Berlin Wall ran straight trough the Invalidenfriedhof. Battles of life and death took place at this old graveyard when people and even schoolboys tried to get to the other side of Berlin, via Invalidenfriedhof. West and East German policemen started shooting at each other during these escapes.
Boseckendorf is not even near Berlin, but the small village of Boseckendorf had to deal with the iron curtain every day, just like the people in Berlin. It was situated at the border of the GDR and West Germany. The inhabitants of the border village were so fed up with the situation, they decided to flee on October 2, 1961. Not just one. All 53 of them.
The classic image of a senior is a content gentleman sitting next to the fire, reading a novel with his wife sitting next to him, knitting a new sweater. In Berlin, seniors do different things if they are not happy with a situation. They don’t sit near a fire, they dug a tunnel to escape the Berlin Wall.
Some people were really inventive to get past the Berlin Wall. Two Berliners apparently knew their myths and hid escapees in a hollow cow, like the Greeks did so many centuries ago to get past the Trojan Wall. They drove to East Berlin, hid an escapee in the hollow cow and quickly drove back to West Berlin
Where is the Berlin Wall?
Because in 1989 all Berliners were very happy to see this hated piece of concrete gone, it is not easy to find the Berlin Wall in the city. But we know the unknown spots, like Invalidenfriedhof where people fleed the Berlin Wall by running over the military graveyard. We know where to find the watchtowers and where people dug tunnels under the Berlin Wall. But also where the most beautiful pieces are, like East Side Gallery and the Mauerpark.
Why was the Berlin Wall build? Answering this question is not so simple as it looks. Back in the days patriotic communist East Germans would say the Berlin Wall was a: “Anti-fascist wall, protecting East Germans against the fascists in West Germany.” In West Germany most people would say: “It’s a brutal wall that divides our country, put up by scary communists.”
The Brandenburger Tor at the end of Unter den Linden became the symbol of reunited Germany and Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Between 1961-1989 the Berlin Wall surrounded the Brandenburger Tor, as you can still see at graffiti on East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain. East Berlin was on one side – a couple of meters further was West Berlin.
The Berlin Wall at Invalidenfriedhof makes this cemetery a very tragic and spectacular place to be. The Berlin Wall ran straight through Invalidenfriedhof. Battles of life and death took place at this military cemetery. This makes the Invalidenfriedhof one of the most remarkable places in Berlin and place to be nr 1 in Mitte for Wall spotting.
The Berlin Wall at Bernauer Strasse had a huge impact on this area. Bernauer Strasse was right in the middle of the border. When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, the entrance of a few buildings was in the East. But if the inhabitants looked out of their windows, they saw West Berlin right beneath them.
The Berlin Wall was a hated piece of concrete in both West and East Berlin. It divided the city and created a large, ugly grey scar. In 1989 118 artists from 21 different countries painted this part of the Berlin Wall that was never touched by art before, because it lies so close to the river Spree. East Side Gallery is the largest part of remaining Berlin Wall.
The Mauerpark was a large piece of Noman’s land between Prenzlauer Berg and Wedding. The Berlin Wall ran straight through the park. Nowadays the park buzzes with life and creativity. At Sunday you can find vintage stuff at the fleemarket, or just chill and enjoy the weird performances at the Mauerpark.
At Kieler Strasse, near the Invalidenfriedhof, you can find one of the most interesting watchtowers of the Berlin Wall. Not only because it is one of the few remaining watchtowers. But mostly, because it is a small museum for the first victim of the Berlin Wall: Gunter Litfin. His brother Jurgen runs the watchtower and museum.
Gropius Bau is a stunning museum with international art. But it is market by two wars. The facade has bullet holes from World War Two. And the museum was useless during the Cold War. The Berlin Wall ran straight through this area, making it noman’s land. Nowadays you can still spot the Berlin Wall near Gropius Bau.
The Berlin Wall was one of the most guarded pieces of concrete. Every piece of Berlin Wall had it’s own watchtower, where the guards or border policemen could sit to watch the environment for people who wanted to flee to West Berlin. After the Berlin Wall fell, nearly all the watchtowers were removed. But the one near Treptower Park still stands strong.
Potsdamer Platz used to be a buzzing square with lots of traffic before World War Two. But after the War it became a large stretch of noman’s land when the Berlin Wall was erected here. Now it’s Berlin’s pride and joy with modern architecture. And you can still find pieces of the Berlin Wall here.
Sometimes the Berlin Wall is nothing more than a simple glittering brick on the ground to show where the Berlin Wall used to be. But before 1989 the Berlin Wall was a brutal reality, not everybody wanted to experience every day. Some wanted to leave, and dug tunnels or climbed the Berlin Wall. Some people weren’t so lucky. They died, escaping to the other side.