History | Did You Know

10 Daring Ways People Escaped Over The Berlin Wall

From 1961 until 1989,  the Berlin Wall divided East and West Germany, along with the countless families who were stuck on either side.

The Berlin Wall was 27 miles long.Jacob's Dream

To reunite with their loved ones - or to escape Soviet East Germany - more than 5,000 people managed to cross the iconic barrier, while as many as 200 lost their lives trying.

Protesters destroy the wall in 1989.MNogolok

Along with armed guards, the Wall featured anti-vehicle trenches, search towers, beds of spikes, guard dogs and machine guns. To get across alive it took some serious courage and creativity, as these 10 daring escapes show.

1. Tunneling under it

Hundreds of people carved tunnels big and small under the barrier, escaping in ones, twos and small groups to freedom in West Germany. A dozen of East Germany's oldest citizens escaped on their own, which came to be known as the Senior Citizen's Tunnel.

A tunnel under Berlin.CIA

The group, lead by an 81-year-old man, spent over 2 weeks digging a 160-foot tunnel that started inside an East German chicken coop. When the escapees were asked why they made the tunnel 6 feet high, they said it was "to walk to freedom with our wives, comfortably and unbowed."

A woman is pulled to safety from an underground tunnel.100 Searches

2. On the "last train to freedom"

In December of 1961, a young East German train conductor named Harry Deterling made an unplanned stop in West Germany, ramming his train at high speed through the newly-built wall.

Guards repair the damage caused by Deterling's train.HuffPost

Deterling, his family and a group of passengers on the train stayed in West Germany for good, while a smaller group asked to be taken home to East Germany.

3. In a stolen tank

East German soldier Wolfgang Engels was lucky to survive after his escape plan hit a few speed bumps. Engels stole a tank and crashed into the wall, but unfortunately the tank didn't break through the barrier. Engels climbed out and over the wall, shouting "I'm getting out of here to the West, anyone want to come along?"

A shot of Engels' tank before he rammed the wall.HuffPost

On the way over, Engels became tangled in barbed wire and was shot by East German guards. Thankfully, he was rescued by West German barflies from a nearby tavern. "When I turned my head and saw all the Western brands of liquor on the shelf, I knew that I had made it," Engels said.

Engels recovers in the hospital.thelocal.de

What sort of escape could be crazier than that?

4. With permission from Hugh Hefner

One way to get across the border without any trouble was to use a diplomatic passport, but a forgery that could trick the East German guards was hard to come by.

Unless you were a member of the Munich Playboy Club, that is. According to the L.A. Times, the passes for the men's club looked so much like the diplomatic passports that guards often waved them through the gate without checking.

5. On an air mattress

The Berlin Wall separated the city by land, but not by water. Lots of desperate freedom-seekers took to the River Elbe on small boats, or tried to swim across. But two men took a much more comfortable trip on a makeshift raft.

The Elbe River in the 1960s.Associated press

Ingo Bethke, a former border guard, made the trip to West Germany by paddling on an inflatable air mattress, along with one of his friends. To get the mattress onto the river, the pair had to carry it over a fence and through a minefield.

6. In a convertible

A Healey Sprite.Convertible Tops

When Heinz Meixner fell in love with an East German woman, he wasn't willing to accept that they couldn't settle down back in West Germany. To bust them out, he hid them both in the trunk of his specially modified convertible.

Meixner demonstrates how he escaped East Berlin.Just a Car Guy

Meixner took the windshield out of his Healey Sprite convertible, so when the tires were deflated the car was low enough to drive under the 3 foot security barrier. Meixner simple sped through the checkpoint before anyone could stop him. Talk about a close shave!

7. On a tightrope

Of course, the man who came up with this crazy scheme was an acrobat. Horst Klein found a cable between two buildings on either side of the wall that the guards hadn't cut down - probably because they thought no one would be stupid enough to climb on it!

Horst probably didn't stop to do any tricks.PJ Star

Horst climbed across the wire hand-over-hand, then lifted his legs up to inch across when his arms were tired. He fell off the wire, but thankfully landed in West Germany.

Okay, now what kind of plan could top that?

8. In a fake Soviet plane

A pair of brothers were separated from their youngest sibling when the wall was built, and came up with a brilliant way to reunite their family. After taking flying lessons, the pair painted a set of small planes with red stars, to look like Soviet military planes.

With some phony uniforms, the brothers were able to meet their missing sibling and fly him back home with no trouble. "I thought I'd never see my brothers again," the East Geman brother said, "but they came out of the sky like angels and took me to paradise."

9. In a homemade hot air balloon

Two earlier hot air balloons had to be scrapped, but the third time was the charm.Place To Be

Mechanic Hans Stelczyk and mason Gunter Wetzel used their combined know-how to build a working hot air balloon engine from some jerry-rigged propane tanks, while their wives sewed bed sheets and canvass into a balloon.

While the landing was bumpy, everyone arrived safely in West Germany.Place to Be Berline

Together with their 4 children, the couple took off one night, floating as high as 8,000 feet. Despite the balloon catching fire mid-flight, all 8 of the passengers landed safely in West Germany.

10. By walking over

While the East German border guards stopped a lot of escape attempts, they also pulled off a lot of them. As many as 1,300 border guards took advantage of their jobs and made a break for the West while on duty.

The most famous escapee guard was Conrad Schumann, a 19-year-old who jumped over a barbed wire fence while the concrete one was under construction. The photo capturing his dramatic escape became one of the most famous symbols of the Cold War.

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