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In January of 1962, 29 East Berliners escaped to West Berlin via a tunnel they had dug beneath the Berlin Wall, led by Erwin Becker, a chauffeur in the car pool of the East Germany Parliament, who served as technical adviser on this film. The film opens with Karl Schroeder (Don Murray), chauffeur to an East German Major, seeing a friend killed as he tried to drive his truck through the wall, He is persuaded by the friend's sister, Erika Jurgens (Christine Kaufmann), and his own family to engineer an attempt to make an escape to the Western sector of the city by digging a tunnel under the wall which is close to their home. Their efforts to evade the suspicions of the East German police, their fear of betrayal by inquisitive neighbors and the exhaustion of the digging are only a few of the difficulties faced by the group. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Not exactly following the real events, but true to their spirit
For some reason, Turner Classic Movies here in the UK keeps showing this film at 5 or 6 in the morning. It deserves to be more widely known. As another reviewer noted, although it was made soon after the events that inspired it, it's no exploitation film. It's a solidly scripted and acted story with multidimensional characters. I wish more movies made now which are based on headlines were as thoughtful and respectful.
That said, the film's story only resembles the actual escape from East Berlin in the way that it shows 28 people fleeing from a tunnel. The real Tunnel 28 (as it was called, and this was an alternative title of the film; in a 1960s poster for it I saw in the Museum in the House at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, it was titled Tunnel 28) was built in May 1962 from a in a street in West Berlin that was close to the Wall; the tunnel ended in a basement in a house in East Berlin. It was not a family but a group of students who constructed the tunnel. They hoped to continue using the tunnel but the night after the 28 people escaped it was flooded by a burst pipe. I've read that some East Berliners hoped to reuse this tunnel during the following winter, after the water froze, but I don't know if this is true. Several people were told about it and when they came to find the tunnel's entrance they were arrested by the East German police.
Interestingly enough, the tunnel's building was financed by NBC in exchange for rights to exclusive footage of the students working on its construction and footage of refugees escaping. I've always wanted to see this documentary but I've never found a copy of it. Some of the NBC footage is featured in a recent German documentary `Der Tunnel - Die Wahre Geschichte' that interviews the builders. While filming this documentary researchers found remains of the tunnel that they dug.
I don't know why the writers of `Escape from East Berlin' felt that they had to change the story. I suppose it was to make it more like a suspense and adventure film. I'm glad that the story they wrote is sympathetic with the East Berliners' point of view and it is unsensational: it must have been a terrific temptation at the time to drive home the horrors of the situation and the horrors of Communism. It holds up very well, aside from one thing that annoyed me. How could people escape from such a narrow and meandering tunnel so quickly holding suitcases and luggage (including china)? In the actual tunnel escapes the refugees were told what the neighbour tells Erica's parents: bring nothing. Besides, carrying suitcases through the streets would have alerted the Stasi's suspicions immediately.
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