6 Escapes over (and under) the Wall

Caolán F., Siman M., Joseph F.

In 1961, the East German government built a wall which separated East Germany (Soviet Union) and West Germany (UK, America and France). This wall was called the Berlin Wall. East Germany was based on communism and West Germany capitalism. Many people wanted to escape from the East side of the Wall. People were shot dead escaping over and under the wall.

If you wanted to get to one side of the wall you had to pass through “Checkpoint Charlie”. You still needed an “interzone pass”. Not many people had one of these passes so their only alternative was to risk their lives and escape over or under the wall.

A person escaping over the Berlin Wall
 When the Berlin Wall first went up, there were many escapes, but Günter Litfin was the first victim who was shot down by an East German border guard in Berlin. He was shot dead on August 24, 1961. 171 people were killed or died attempting to escape at the Berlin Wall between August 13, 1961 and November 9, 1989.
Gunter Litfin, the first person to escape over the Berlin Wall

The most well-known tunnel was dug in a graveyard where Germans would come to mourn the dead and then “disappear” as they dropped into the hole that was dug. The tunnel was a means of escape for more than 50 people, until a woman left her baby carriage behind, leading to the tunnel’s discovery and closure. There were many more tunnels to the other side of the wall, but most of them either caved in or were discovered.

Altogether, there were 71 tunnel projects and 20 per cent of those were successful in escaping the Berlin wall.

There were spectacular escapes from the Berlin wall. The Strelzyk and Wetzel families flew across the border in a home-made hot air balloon, and Holger Bethke swung over the Wall in the centre of Berlin, hanging from a makeshift pulley!

Check Your Understanding

  • Outline how the Graveyard Tunnel was discovered?


  • Who was the first victim of being caught escaping over the Berlin wall? And how were they killed?


  • In what year was the Berlin Wall Erected?

Please open the following link to view a video about escapes over and under the wall and some other general facts.





Copyright © 2012 by Caolán F., Siman M., Joseph F.. All Rights Reserved.


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