The Berlin Wall is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Cold War. Its construction began on 13 August 1961 in an attempt to stop the migration of people into the West. After the end of World War II, the Allied Forces divided Germany into four occupation zones – France, Great Britain, USA and the Soviet Union. While the Western Allies gradually turned over authority to the German officials and eventually merged their zones into the Federal Republic of Germany, the Soviets had no such intentions. The Eastern sector became a communist state. At the time the Wall was raised, up to 1,700 people were fleeing over border each day and it was meant to put a stop to that. Over the next 28 years around 5,000 people attempted the dangerous crossing and the ways some of them came up with are truly amazing. At the beginning many used the buildings along the border, jumping off of windows or roofs into the western side. However, troops soon forced out the residents and closed them off and so people started being creative. One train engineer, Harry Deterling, stole a steam train and drove it through the last train station. Another, a soldier named Wolfgang Engels, stole a tank and drove it though the Wall itself. An Austrian citizen, Heinz Meixner, smuggled his future wife and mother in law in his convertible by driving under the barrier. Two families actually build a hot air balloon out of bedsheets and soared over. A trapeze artist, Horst Klein walked over a disused power cable like a tightrope. Halfway through he fell down and broke both his hands, but he too had made it.
The biggest success came when 57 people managed to escape through an underground tunnel. Through the years over 500 people cross using fake passports, after one citizen noticed that the Munich Playboy Club membership cards bared a close resemblance to diplomatic passports. Others weren’t so lucky. 391 people died in their attempts, until the Wall finally fell down on 9 November 1989.
The most incredible story escape must be that of the Bethke brothers, who crossed on three separate attempts. The oldest one, Ingo, paddled over the Elbe river in 1975 using an air mattress. The second one, Holger, passed 8 years later by shooting an arrow tied to a wire over the wall and ziplining between two buildings. Finally, in 1989 they went over a final time to rescue their youngest brother Egbert using two small aircraft. They flew over, picked him up and returned before the border guards could act, landing right in front of the Reichstag.