When Berlin’s despised Wall went up in 1961, the divided city overnight became an imposing landscape of barbed wire and guards with shoot-to-kill orders.

But beneath the earth, desperate Germans started digging dozens of tunnels to attempt to burrow their way to freedom, or liberate easterners who have been prisoners of their personal nation. Only a fortunate couple of succeeded against the odds.

Thirty years on immediately after the joyous fall of the Wall, Boris Franzke, now 80, recalls his hair-raising, subterranean adventures in between the communist east and the capitalist west — as soon as with the unlikeliest of allies.

Franzke, who helped a number of easterners escape, stated: “At very first I wasn’t interested in politics. I did not really feel impacted by the tensions in between the Soviet Union and the West.”

All that changed the evening of August 12-13, 1961 when the Stalinist state moved to seal the border to cease a mass exodus of easterners to the west. From 1949 till perform on the Wall started, two.7 million had crossed from east to west.

“That well-known evening was the trigger,” Franzke told AFP, when he as a 22-year-old man was reduce off from his pals, his loved ones and even his fiancee, who have been all living in the east. 

“We have been devastated”

Franzke’s brother Eduard, whose wife and two youngsters lived “on the other side”, recommended that they construct an underground pathway.

But they have been betrayed on their very first try and the loved ones nevertheless in the east was thrown in prison.

“We have been devastated but stated that we’d hold at it for the reason that every single particular person we brought back to the west would weaken the GDR a small additional,” he stated, fighting back tears.

From the time the border was sealed till 1964, the brothers took element in the developing of seven tunnels, only two of which accomplished their objective. Amongst 26 and 28 East Germans, according to Franzke, spirited themselves to the west via them.


A tunnel which lead into the cellar of this developing, situated straight opposite the Berlin wall, enabled 50 persons to escape to then West Berlin

“In his personal way, Boris Franzke was absolutely a member of the resistance,” stated historian Sven Felix Kellerhoff, co-author of “Underground to Freedom” about the escape tunnels.

“These courageous young guys,” he stated, provided “selfless assist in escaping — it in no way involved payment and its sole objective was to weaken the single celebration regime”.

In total, 75 tunnels ran beneath the city in the course of the 28 years the Wall stood, even though only 19 succeeded in permitting fugitives to escape to the West — about 400 persons, according to the Berlin Underworlds group which organises historical tours in the capital. 

A trap

But the most indelible moment came in the summer time of 1962 when the two brothers, who had created a name for themselves amongst the shadowy group of “diggers”, wanted to bring a number of acquaintances of a pal to the west.

The spot they chose, on the outer fringe of the city’s western sector bordering on the eastern state of Brandenburg, was not closely monitored.  

The dangers of flooding have been low and the sandy soil did not demand reinforcement of the tunnel walls.

The Franzkes and two pals dug day and evening for 5 weeks till the passage — 80 centimetres (31 inches) wide and 80 metres (yards) lengthy — opened into a garden exactly where 13 prospective escapees have been to be waiting. 

But as quickly as they arrived, they saw it was a trap: as an alternative of dissidents hoping for freedom, who had in reality been arrested a couple of days ahead of, they located Stasi agents prepared to pounce.  

3 of the diggers managed to do an about-face in the tunnel but their pal Harry Seidel, the very first to emerge, was caught and interrogated. 

Sentenced to life in prison, this “public enemy quantity 1” of the SED celebration would later be “purchased” by the West German government in 1966, a prevalent practice at the time.  

It would take till 2010 for Boris Franzke to discover that he had narrowly escaped a grisly death: the East German authorities, exasperated by him and his brother, had wanted to blow up the tunnel with 5 kilogrammes (11 pounds) of explosives.

“My hero”

“The supplies have been prepared but at the moment they have been to go off, absolutely nothing! The wick (on the explosives) had been reduce,” Franzke stated.

As for the saboteur, historians say it was probably a lieutenant-colonel of the Stasi secret police, Richard Schmeing, who died in 1984.

“As strange as it sounds, he’s my hero. He place his life on the line to save 4 persons,” Franzke stated. 

Schmeing had been imprisoned at two concentration camps beneath the Nazis for his membership of the communist celebration. From 1949 till 1968 he worked for the Stasi.

His motives, presuming he was the one particular who prevented disaster, stay shrouded in mystery.

Was he a brave humanist? Did he endure from a guilty conscience? Was he moved by the presence of a young couple who occurred to be nearby?

In any case the golden age of Wall tunnel developing would quickly come to an finish, followed by a main fortification of the border in between the two Germanys. 

“80 % of the tunnels have been dug in between the time the Wall was constructed in the summer time of 1961 and October 1964, when a border guard was supposedly shot by an escaping fugitive,” stated Marc Boucher, a guide with Berlin Underworlds. 

“This occasion shifted public opinion in the West which was till then extremely supportive of these techniques of escape.”

It was not till reunification in 1990 that it emerged that the guard was in reality killed by accident by one particular of his colleagues.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV employees and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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