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10 creative ways people crossed the inner German border

Some went over, others went under and some went right through it!

In a hot air balloon

In 1979, eight people soared over the Berlin Wall in a home-made hot air balloon created with small pieces of nylon cloth. To avoid looking suspicious, the families of Hans Strelczyk and Gunter Wetzel secretly collected small amounts of cloth over a long period of time. After their escape, the East German government began to strictly control the purchases of light-weight cloth.

© dpa / picture-alliance

Through an underground tunnel

Dozens of people crossed the German border through a number of underground tunnels that often took months to dig. More than 70 such tunnels have been discovered, 20 percent of which led to successful escapes. In 1962, about one-dozen retirees, led by an 81-year-old man, dug and escaped through what became known as the Seniorentunnel (“Senior Citizens’ Tunnel”).

© dpa / picture-alliance

As a tightrope walker

In 1963, East German acrobat Horst Klein walked across a high-tension cable that stretched across the Berlin Wall. He fell off the tightrope — but landed in the west.

Using an air mattress

In 1975, East German soldier Ingo Bethke dreamed of traveling the world. One night in May, the young man cut a hole in the border fence, navigated through the mine field and swam across the Elbe River on an air mattress.

Using a zipline

In 1983, Ingo Bethke’s brother, Holger, joined his sibling using an equally creative method: with steel cables and a wooden pulley, Bethke built himself a home-made zipline and flew across the Death Strip from his apartment building to a house on the other side.

In a Soviet-disguised airplane

The Betheke brothers had a third sibling in the east, so in early 1989, they decided to go back and bring him over the border. Ingo and Holger took ultralight flying lessons, bought two ultralight planes and painted Soviet stars on one of them. Dressed in military uniforms, the brothers flew over the border, picked up the third brother – Egbert – and flew to the west. The mission went largely unnoticed.

© dpa / picture-alliance

Through China

In 1987, a young East German couple traveled secretly from Berlin to China in order to reach the West German Embassy in Beijing. With nearly 6,000 miles of travel behind them, the woman decided to return to her home in East Berlin, while the man received a West German passport and started a new life.

With Playboy membership cards

From a distance, membership cards to Munich’s Playboy Club closely resembled diplomatic passports. As a result, border guards occasionally waved through anyone who flashed their playboy memberships.

Through a sewer

On August 13, 1961 – the day the Berlin Wall was built – Karin and Karl-Heinz Albert panicked and snuck across the border in an underground sewer. Ultimately, more than 100 people crawled into West Berlin through its sewage system.

“The last train to freedom”

In 1961, train driver Harry Deterling drove a train through the Berlin Wall at full speed, calling it the “last train to freedom.” The train came to a stop in the West Berlin district of Spandau. Deterling and his family chose to stay in the west, but many of the train’s passengers returned to their homes in the east.

© dpa / picture-alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

This article originally appeared on Buzzfeed.

One Reply to “10 creative ways people crossed the inner German border”

  1. Tom Rieke

    I don’t use “social media”. You should seriously consider resigning from all those “platforms”. But even if you don’t, I will remain happy to receive This Week in Germany. Danke schön for this important and fascinating story.

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