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What Is It?
From 1961 to 1989, the Berlin Wall was both a physical and ideological barrier between East and West Germany. The US, the UK, France and the Soviet Union each took their share of the land.
Number 8 Flying a Hot Air Balloon
After watching a documentary on hot air ballooning, aircraft engineer Hans Peter Strelczyk was inspired. Alongside friend, Gunter Wetzel, he built an engine from propane cylinders. The balloon itself was made from bedsheets stitched together by their wives. On September 16, 1979, they took off, soared over the Wall and landed on West German soil. The hot air balloon flight that changed the lives of the two men and their families lasted roughly half an hour.
Wolfgang Engels helped build the Wall in 1961 but who soon realized that life in the West was more alluring. Unfortunately it wasn’t powerful enough to break through the concrete barrier. That’s when Engels got out and tried to climb the wall but got stuck in the barbed wire. Engels said that he knew he’d made it because, as he awoke on the bar counter, he saw all the Western brands of liquor.
Why Was It Built?
To counter this move the Allies began dropping supplies by air, which became known as the Berlin Airlift. The following year the Soviets cancelled the blockade and a decade of relative peace followed. Crossing the border could only be done through checkpoints alongside the wall.
Number 6 Paddling on an Air Mattress
In 1975, Ingo Bethke decided to flee East Berlin by using an air mattress. He used to work as an East German border guard and knew the terrain on the banks of the River Elbe. Bethke and a friend made their way to the river and used an air mattress as a raft. They followed the course of the Elbe and quietly paddled to West Germany.
Number 5 Using a Zip Line
After Ingo Bethke defected to West Germany, his family was tightly monitored by East German authorities. However, that didn’t stop his younger brother Holger planning a daring escape. A trained archer, Holger found a tall building overlooking the other side of the wall. In 1983, he snuck into the attic and used a bow and arrow to fire a cable to West Berlin. Ingo, who’d gotten word from his brother, was waiting on the other side and attached the cable to his car. Holger then rode the zip line using a metal pulley and was reunited with his brother on the other side.
The Berlin Wall was a 12-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide structure made of reinforced concrete with a giant pipe at the top that made climbing it next to impossible. The wall zig-zagged across the country for 96 miles, separating East and West Germany, with about 27 miles running across the capital city.
Number 4 Driving a Stolen Train
Four months after the wall was built, 27-year-old railway engineer Harry Deterling found a disused train track that still stretched from East to West Berlin. Deterling signed on as a conductor on the route nearest to the disused track. In early December, 1961, Deterling’s friends and family climbed aboard the train. After disabling the emergency brakes, Deterling drove the train at full speed towards West Berlin and, implicitly, to freedom.
How Did It End?
On November 9, 1989, the East German government announced its citizens could visit the West. In a celebratory atmosphere, thousands of Germans crossed or climbed over the Wall to embrace those on the other side. The Berlin Wall, in its ideological form, had fallen and Germany was whole again. The physical demolition of the Wall was completed from 1990 to 1992.
Number 3 Driving a Convertible
While working in East Berlin, Heinz Meixner fell in love with Margarete Thurau. Meixner was Austrian but East German authorities wouldn’t allow him to marry Thurau in his native country. Meixner then rented a convertible and modified it by removing its windshield and deflating its tires. In 1963, with Thurau and his future mother-in-law in the trunk, Meixner approached a border checkpoint.
Number 2 Swimming
When he was only 18 years old, in 1966, Hartmut Richter swam across the Teltow Canal to reach West Berlin.
Number 1 Moving on a Tightrope
Driven by his passion and love of the circus he plotted an escape by doing what he was best at…climbing the tightrope. In the winter of 1962, he climbed an electricity pole adjacent to the wall and started moving hand-over-hand across a disused power cable.