The Great Escape from East Berlin

Imagine scaling an electricity pole in the dead of night, a bitterly cold wind rushing past your ears, and tiptoeing along a power cable through the skies of Berlin. This is exactly where trapeze artist Horst Klein found himself after being banned from performing in East Berlin for his anti-communist beliefs.

He eventually fell to the ground after becoming fatigued, but fortunately landed in West Berlin. Despite two broken arms he was finally free from the communist holds of the East. But he wasn’t the only one to risk his life.

30 years ago, on 9th November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the people of Berlin were liberated after being separated for almost three decades. But during the years that the Berlin Wall stood, hundreds of people followed Klein’s example, with each one having to find their own creative way to defect to the West.

West and East Germans at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989 - The Great Escape from East Berlin
West and East Germans climb on top of the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989

A homemade hot air balloon

Two friends who worked as mechanics used their skills to build a hot air balloon. They had a little help from their wives too, who stitched together bed sheets to make the actual balloon. In September 1979 the couples and their children climbed into the balloon and floated through the skies over the wall into the freedom of the West.

The last train to freedom

In 1961 not long after the wall was erected, Harry Deterling found himself driving a train down a disused railway track. As a railway engineer he knew this track led to gap where the Berlin Wall had not yet been completed. After piling his friends and family on board, Deterling drove the train at high speed through the gap in the barrier and into West Berlin. The gap was sealed by East German guards the next day, giving the train its nickname “the last train to freedom”.

East German Guard   Flickr   The Central Intelligence Agency cropped 1024x667 - The Great Escape from East Berlin
Conrad Schumann, the first person ever to cross the Berlin Wall, leaping over the barbed wire that formed the initial barricade.  

In a stolen tank

An East German soldier stole a tank in 1963 and drove it straight into the wall in the hope that it would break through. The force wasn’t enough to destroy the wall so instead the soldier was forced to climb out on top of the tank and up onto the wall. Under gunfire from the East German border guards he got stuck in barbed wire, and shot twice. Fortunately West Germans came to his aid and rescued him.

In a convertible with no windshield

Checkpoint Charlie, was the scene of a successful, and bold, escape by Heinz Meixner. He rented a red Austin-Healy Sprite, chosen because the car itself only measured 90cm high. This was vital for Mexiner’s plan. He removed the windshield and let out a little air from the tires to lower the car even more, drove to Checkpoint Charlie (with his girlfriend and mother in law hidden in the back) and drove straight under the barrier into the West.

On an air mattress

One man who was so familiar with the banks of the River Elbe, which ran through Berlin, used an air mattress as a makeshift raft. Under the cover of darkness and with a trusted friend, the pair navigated a metal fence and the muddy riverbank. They climbed on board the mattress and silently paddled along the river into West Germany.

Chipping off a piece of the Berlin Wall 1024x699 - The Great Escape from East Berlin
A ‘wall woodpecker’ chips away at a section of the Berlin Wall.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. On the night the wall came down celebrations continued throughout the city into the early hours of the morning as friends and families reunited. Today, little remains of the wall as it was almost entirely destroyed, but the legacy of that night and the wall lives on.

If you’re interested….

You can own an ORIGINAL piece of the Berlin Wall along with a coin from both East and West Germany. And just think, this might even be the very piece that Horst Klein walked over! But it’s already over 75% sold so you’ll need to act fast. Check out the video to see Adam explain what makes this set so special or click here to order yours today >>


  1. Dr Peter Vickers on November 13, 2019 at 11:55 am

    In 1the late 1960s I was teaching at a school in Lancashire that was twinned with a school in West Germany. In 1968, a group of teachers and pupils from the school visited us and we went off to Scotland for various activities who visited us in 1968 and we went on a musical/cultural. The following year we reciprocate and visited the German school, where we gave concerts and also lived with our German hosts. As part of that visit, we went to Berlin for several days – which at that time was still divided. We had to have special documents to travel through East Germany to get to Belin. As part of the trip, we teachers went with German teachers to spend a few hour in East Berlin. We English had to go to East Berlin via the underground, whilst the German teachers had to go through the checkpoints in the Wall. We found the East Berliners very friendly, But East Berlin was a dreary place which had not recovered from the damage of the fighting – with all the buildings pockmarked as a result of bullets hitting them. We also visited the wall on both sides of it, and it was a very depressing experience and rather menacing. On the way back our coach stopped at the West Berlin/East Germany border and all our passports were collected and taken by the East German guards to an office for perusal and stamping. They were then returned to the leader of the party and we set off through east Germany back to West Germany. Once we were moving again, the leader of our group started handing back to us all – except that, with horror, my passport was not given back. It wa a heart stopping moment as, without a valid passport I would not be allowed to leave East Germany, and would be arrested. We had to turn back and luckily, because we had German teachers on the bus, I managed to get my passport back!

    The next year I visited Berlin again – but by them I was attached to the British Army at a base not far away from East Germany, and visited Berlin again. This time, as a member of the British Forces, I was not allowed to travel through East Germany, but had to fly there and back from the nearby RAF base – which was very short journey – basically up in the air, fly for about 20 minutes, and then, following a steep descent, land in West Berlin. This time I was not allowed to visit East Berlin.

    I maintained my links with Germany up to and after reunification and, in the 1990s, a large part of the research for my PhD took place in Germany (by them I could speak German fluently)

    • Kathryn Thompson on November 18, 2019 at 11:05 am

      Wow, what an amazing story! Thanks for sharing your experiences with us

  2. Steve brown on November 12, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Having known German citizens (these were friends I made in my teens meeting in Hastings while they were on a school trip and who I pen palled and stayed with them at their parents home) who had relatives on the East German side and only got to speak to them once a year it must have been hell, how restricted a life. They lived in serious poverty and were so controlled by the state you could understand why people would do anything to escape, the East German roads were patrolled every 5 or 10 miles what a way to live COMMUNISM

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