This year marks 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Joey Tyson heads underground and discovers remarkable stories of escape from East Germany.
Somewhere beneath the former West Berlin, a train rumbles overhead. We’re in a disused part of the city’s U-Bahn network in a former defense shelter; the tunnel’s white-washed concrete walls seem to squeeze inwards, its low roof pressing down. There’s a hint of claustrophobia. I think that’s the point.
“From the start, people were trying to escape,” explains Eran Kedar, our guide.
When the Iron Curtain slammed down across Berlin on August 13, 1961, East Germans, who until the day before could simply stroll across the city’s border, probably felt a similar feeling of suffocation. They were pretty much trapped, divided by force.
On one side of the wall, you had the liberated. Newly emancipated from Nazi oppression, the West was flourishing while the East slumped further into an autocratic quagmire. Peter Millar, author and Reuters’ East Berlin correspondent described the Berlin of that time as a “schizophrenic city”.
A failing economy and an increasingly invasive police state inevitably spurred thousands to attempt escape. Almost immediately, East Berliners went underground, using the U-Bahn to get out. And that’s why I’m on this tour—to hear these remarkable stories. The tours are led by Berliner Unterwelten e.V, an association dedicated to the strange, stunning subterranean history of Berlin.