The Berlin Wall first went up in August 1961, after a record number of East Germans crossed over onto the Western side. The wall stayed for nearly three decades – 28 years to be exact. During this time, this deadly barrier separated families and friends. And while some successfully escaped, at least 138 people died while trying to cross.
One East German secret service file from 1973 about the orders giving to border patrol even read: “Don’t hesitate to use your weapon even when border breaches happen with women and children.”
No one really knows how many people safely crossed – some estimate roughly 5,000 reached West Berlin across the Wall. Here are ten of their stories via the Huff Post (Part 2 and 3 to follow).
A diverted train
Just four months after the Berlin Wall first went up, a young railroad engineer on the eastern side discovered a break in the barrier. His name was Harry Deterling. Deterling actually uncovered a train track that ran from a suburb of East Berlin into West Berlin.
The track was no longer in use, but it gave him an idea – dubbed “the last train to freedom.” So Deterling quickly signed up to drive the train on the nearest route. On Dec. 5, 1961 he rounded up his family and friends aboard, drained the air from the train’s emergency breaks and floored it towards West Berlin.
They all successfully made it to the other side – when one of the passengers exclaimed, “We’ve just escaped with a train!” The railway was blocked the following day.
A stolen tank
East German solider Wolfgang Engels was determined to get out. Although he helped build the Wall in 1963, he plotted his escape just two years later. On April 16, 1963, Engels stole and East German tank and drove it full speed through Wall, allegedly yelling “I’m getting out of here to the West, anyone want to come along?”
He didn’t get all the way through, and Engels was forced to get out and try to climb over. He got stuck in the barbed wire and was shot twice by border guards. Eventually some West Germans who were drinking at a nearby pub ran to his aid, helping him out of the wire and into the bar (and for some reason not to a hospital). He later told his story saying when he regained consciousness: “When I turned my head and saw all the Western brands of liquor on the shelf, I knew that I had made it.”