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4 - In the shadow of the Wall

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  Escapes

Altogether, 5 043 East Germans, including 574 border guards, managed to scale the Wall, the first one being Conrad Schuman who lost no time in jumping over the barbed wire, on 15th August 1961. Most of these escapes in fact took place in the early months when the border had not yet been completely sealed. Sixty thousand were sentenced for attempting to " flee the Republic " and some for merely making " preparations ". Life imprisonment was meted out to those providing organized assistance to fugitives. Escapees used a variety of methods and stratagems. Thus 14 times in the first year, the Wall was smashed through by heavy lorries.

In December 1961, a train carried 24 fugitives to the other side of the Wall. In June 1962, 14 East Berliners captured a boat after plying the captain with drink and tying him up. Then they headed full steam across the Spree under a hail of bullets.

The most spectacular escape occurred in October 1964 when 57 East Berliners passed under the Wall. Since April, 37 students and relatives of the fugitives based in the West had been digging, 13 metres (50') underground, a tunnel 145 metres (475') long and 70 centimetres (2'3") high, linking a former bakery in the Bernauer Strasse to some backyard toilets in the Strelitzer Strasse, in the East. Over two days, from 3rd to 5th October, 31 women, 23 men and 3 children passed through this narrow tunnel. Their escape, the eighth through a tunnel since the Wall was built, ended with a gun battle in which an East German soldier was killed.

During the night of 28th July 1965, the Holzapfel family achieved the feat of climbing over the Wall, by sliding along a rope thrown from the roof of the Ministries House in the East and held taut on the Western side by relatives who knew about the escape.

Cars were used in various ways by escapees. The fugitive was strapped under the vehicle or hidden in the trunk where the petrol tank had been downsized. An extra low sports car contrived to pass under the frontier barrier in the days before they were fitted with vertical bars. One after the other, nine persons managed to escape in an Isetta, a small car rather like a Fiat 500, and with the battery and heater taken out for the occasion.

Four men wearing Soviet uniforms made by their female partner to the escape crossed the Wall with no problems, receiving as they did so a respectful salute from the sentries.

In January 1984, six Germans from East Germany sought refuge inside the US embassy in East Berlin and after two days of intense negotiating finally obtained permission to emigrate.

 

 Escapees with heavy lorries
Escapees with heavy lorries

 Isetta
Escapees with Isetta cars

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