Escape Routes


About 10,000 people fled the GDR using either a makeshift identification card of West-Berlin, an ID card of West Germany, or a passport of a foreign nation. At first this was handled privately by individuals, but after the 23rd of August, 1961  escapes were facilitated almost only by organized groups of escape helpers. In the beginning it was good enough to choose an ID document by "resemblance" (see "By Resemblance" in the section "Terminology"), but later the photo of the escapee needed to be mounted into the passport (see "Remounting" in Terminology). Many of these manipulations were done so professionally, that even Stasi agents stated that one could not tell them apart from untouched passports.

Passports were not only used in a straightforward manner, but also for various purposes, such as transit traffic or the twice-crossing tour, by which the escape helper would go through border inspections twice.

For a full survey into this subjekt, please check my book "Wege durch die Mauer".

The look-alike runs took place primarily here by the entrance barracks on the border at Heinrich-Heine-Straße
Repetition tours worked out only in the control station of Checkpoint Heinrich-Heine-Straße (view from the observation platform in West-Berlin)


metal bar
The metal bar which escape helpers sawed out of the grate in the Esplanade-canalization in two nights, and two flashlights which were used, one of them made in China.

800 people escaped through the canalization system, particularly the three main sections. These escapes were the most chaotic. During a short period of time so many people fled via this route, that it became difficult to keep up with organisation. Nonetheless, this was the safest way to escape. Only six people were arrested.

For a full survey into this subjekt, please check my book "Wege durch die Mauer".

View of the entrance to the canalization system on Neuen Grünstrasse
View towards the entrance of the canalization system on Neue Grünstrasse. The conduit was only one meter high and initially also a home for rats. Nonetheless, nobody hesitated upon seeing that he could escape this way.


Roughly 1000 people came into the West hidden in especially modified cars, which had escape compartments - usually between the back seat and the trunk. (The number is only an estimate, as there are hardly any accurate records). This escape method was particularly popular among gangsters. On these occasions many escapees and escape helpers were arrested, unfortunately.

The "star" among the modified cars was without any doubt my Cadillac, in which around 200 people hidden in a dashboard compartment were brought into the West safely. It was copied three times, but never that successfully.

For a full survey into this subjekt, please check my book "Wege durch die Mauer".

Three cars equivalent to those I modified through the years.

This topic is discussed more closely in my book "Wege durch die Mauer" and here.


Digging a tunnel in order to allow a person to flee was surely the most spectacular manner of aided escape. However, there was a constant danger of being shot at,  and sadly sometimes even killed exiting the tunnel to the East. The physical and psychological stress was enormous, and this fact forged strong bonds between the tunnel diggers. However, of the 75 documented escape tunnels in Berlin only 19, roughly every fourth one, were finished and used successfully. And only about 300 people reached freedom safely. Sadly, four people were killed and many arrested near or inside the tunnels. Nevertheless, in the tunnels called Tunnel 29 and Tunnel 57 group escapes were successful: 29 people in 1962 and 57 people in 1964 reached the free West each in two nightly runs. (Canalization escapes, during which a significantly larger number of people could flee, had already occured in 1961).

Here an important note “on our own behalf”: the most successful tunnels were not dug by people who wished to flee from the GDR and saw no other option but to dig through filth, but rather by young men from the West, who wanted to give people a chance to live in freedom!

For a full survey into this subjekt, please check my book "Wege durch die Mauer".

The nearly completed "Thieme-Tunnel“ before it had to be abandoned.

Self-organized Escapes

There were also many escapes which had been privately arranged by citizens of the GDR, but these are not my topic. However, I have great admiration for the courage and creativity which these individuals proved by their escape methods. (Balloons, small aircrafts, helicopters, captured ships, self-dug tunnels, as well as numerous attempts to go directly over the wall at various points). Unfortunately, about 90% of these attempts failed. The majority beeing shot at the wall were people who sought their own way into freedom, because they found no escape helpers.