The East German soldier Wolfgang Engels may
have helped to build the Wall but two years later he had enough of it. In April 1963, he stole a parked armored personnel
carrier and left the military base. It wasn’t the best-laid plan he simply planned to go directly through the wall with the tank. A few hundred meters from the border, he leaned
out of the vehicle and offered bystanders a ride to the West, but no one joined him. Engels then put his foot down and launched
at full speed the tank into the concrete barrier. He didn’t break cleanly through, and dramatically,
the exit door was still on the east side. He got out and climbed over the bonnet, but
a guard who had arrived at the scene shot him a close range. Although he had been shot, he still managed
to climb the wall, but got stuck on the barbed wire, and the guard shot him again in the
back. Finally a West Berlin border guard who has
witnessed the escape attempt returned fire to the East, buying Engels some time, but
the fugitive lost consciousness on the wall. During the exchange of fire, some West Berliners
rushed from a nearby pub and pulled Engels down to safety. If someone was caught making a violation of
the border line, border men were allowed to shoot them down without orders; how did it
came to this? After the defeat of the Nazi regime in 1945,
Germany was put under the control of the Allied forces with the U.S. British, French, and Soviets, each having
their own zone of occupation. The Cold War incited a strong flow of emigration
from the East to the West. So much so that in 1961, East Germany’s communist
leaders decided that a wall should be built around West Berlin to prevent their citizens
fleeing to the west and to prevent the intrusion of possible agents
and spies. The people living in the east were confined
without the possibility of crossing the border. The desperation inspired hundreds of escape
attempts, not all successfu. but some absolutely creative. Harry Deterling was a train engineer about
to be transferred to a labor and re-education camp after refusing to comply to state programs. Four months after the construction of the
wall he saw his opening, literally in a train crossing to West Berlin scheduled for permanent
closure. There was no time to waste. He gather his family and some friends on the
train during his shift, just five days before the dismantling of the tracks. When Deterling approached last station, instead
of slowing down to stop, he opened up the throttle and disconnected the safety brake
so that no one could stop the train. There were 32 people on that train, including
seven passengers who didn’t realize what they’d gotten into. The guards also caught by surprise didn’t
fire a single shot. The runaway train smashed full-speed into
the barrier protecting the border and ended its journey in the West Berlin district of
Spandau. Horst Klein was a trapeze artist living in
East Berlin, who was banned from performing for his anti-communist’ ideas. He noticed a cable spanning across the Berlin
wall and decided to flee doing what the did best. During a cold winter night of 1962, he climbed
an electric utility pole, reached the high-voltage cable and started moving hand-over-hand over
the wall. At some point his arms became too tired and
he tried to use his legs too. Dangling a perilous 18 meters above the guards
patrolling the area Klein was far from safety, yet outside the range of the search-lights. Unfortunately his hands numbed in the cold
and he lost his grip falling down. klein broke both of his arms in the fall,
but luckily he landed just a few feet over the western side of the wall. Twenty-one years old Ingo Betke dreamed of
seeing the world, but his dream could never become a reality as long as he was trapped
in East Germany. Ingo had became familiar with the Elbe river
while serving as a border guar and decided the Elbe would be his path to freedom. One night of 1975 he went to a dimly lit area
by the river, but escape would not be easy. To reach the bank, Ingo needed to pass through
an heavy metal fence with tripwires that activated floodlights when touched. Next was a barbed wire barrier, and behind
that a strip dotted with mines. When he finally reached the river bank, he
blew up an air mattresses and silently paddled to the other side. Eight years later Holger Bethke, Ingo’s brother,
also decided to flee but the Elbe river had been even more heavily fortified. He had to choose another way. For weeks, Holger and a friend prepared for
the escape by working out and practicing archery. In march 1983, the two dressed as electricians
entered the chosen building where they hid in the attic. Under the cover of darkness Holger shot a
nylon line over the wall using a bow and arrow however, with only 3 arrows, he missed the
first two shots. He finally sent the last arrow over the border
and beyond the opposite house and tied his end around a chimney. Ingo was waiting on the other side, with the
nylon line retrieved a steel cable over the wall and fastened it to his car. He then drove a few meters forward to pull
the cable taut. With the line prepared, Holger launched himself
down the track, using the rope as a zip line hanging onto an iron pulley. Moments from freedom, Holger realized the
line wasn’t steep enough and he came to a stop before the end of the line. Stranded on the cable there was no going back,
he had to move forward. He used his hands to push himself forward
and found a balcony just below him where he jumped into west Berlin. Surveillance systems improved from year to
year and by 1989 escape was almost impossible but the Bethke brothers had a third sibling
still in the east, and they decided to risk everything to bring him over the border. They bought two ultralight planes and modified
them with more powerful engines to carry two people instead of one. Their plane: Pretend to be Russian pilots
and to make things seem more believable they glued two red stars under the wings of the
ultralights. Dressed in fake russian uniforms, they took
off at down heading to Treptower park where their brother was waiting in East Germany. Flying over the border the brothers had waged
that nobody would dare to shoot down an identified object during the Cold War, and they retrieved
Hegbert and flew to the West without raising any suspicion. When they took off, Egbert was haunted by
a thought that all people who cross the border as refugees have: leaving behind a whole life,
your city, your people, and not knowing if you’ll ever be able to meet them again.


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