Regina Sun from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada on October 19, 2014 · 4
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Regina Sun from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada · 4

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Issue Date:
Sunday, October 19, 2014
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A4 Sunday. October 19. 2014 Sunday Past Image from a comic exhibition that showed the history of Tunnel 57 in Berlin in 2012. Berlin Wall tunnellers recall epic escape 50 years ago 57 refugees fled the brutal Communist regime of East Germany via a secretly crafted tunnel beneath the Berlin Wall Survivors share memories of their remarkable story with Justin Huggler of The Sunday Telegraph. BERLIN The call came on Friday night, his sisters voice on the phone: Can you come to Achims parents place tomorrow? To anyone listening in, there would have been nothing suspicious about the call, a routme invitation to his sisters parents-in-law. But Hans-Joachim Tillemann knew it was the signal he had been waiting for. The next day, he would be going under the Berlin Wall, in the most daring mass escape ever attempted from East Germany The border guards probably noticed nothing out of the ordinary about the small group that passed them the following evening. It was not unusual for passers-by to be a little nervous so close to the wall. But Tillemann knew it was their last chance to turn back as they passed the checkpoint. From this point on, they were risking their lives: The border guards had orders to shoot. He glanced over the wall, at the building opposite, just inside West Berlin. If anything had gone wrong, hed been told, the escape team would shine a light from the top floor. There was no light. The address they had been given, Strelitzer Strasse 55, was an apartment block a short distance from the checkpoint. Inside the door, someone was waiting. Tillemann whispered the password: Tokyo. The man motioned them to take off their shoes, to make as little noise as pos sible. They padded through the hallway in their socks, out the back door and into a courtyard. A second man directed them to a disused outside lavatory Inside, there was a small hole in the floor, just big enough for a man to slip through. A third conspirator showed them how to get in: You had to lower yourself in backwards, then slide into the tunnel. Tillemann stepped in. He found himself in a narrow tunnel, two feet high and three feet wide, and started crawling. He was under the Berlin Wall, on his way to freedom. This is the story of what happened 50 years ago this month. On the nights of Oct. 3 and 4, 1964, a total of 57 people escaped under the noses of East German border guards, through a tunnel under the Berlin Wall. It has become known as Tunnel 57, after the number who crawled to freedom. It was the largest successful mass escape during the 28 years for which the wall stood. I was afraid until we passed the border guards in the street, recalls Tillemann. I knew it would end one of three ways: Wed make it under the wall, wed get four or five years in prison, or wed be shot. It was a big risk. But after the checkpoint, there was no time to be afraid. You just kept moving. The hard thing was getting to that point. A refugee advances down the tunnel. There were several people in the tunnel, all making their way under the wall. They were not allowed to bring any baggage, only their papers. To each side of them was loose dirt, but electric lights had been strung along the way. The space was so narrow one woman became stuck, and had to be pushed. Tillemann had his own problem getting through: He had needed an emergency operation for acute appendicitis a few days before, and the stitches were still fresh in his side. But the tunnel would be his last opportunity to get out of East Berlin, and he wasnt going to miss it. I dont know how long I was in the tunnel, he says. You had no sense of time. But we knew it would end in freedom, so we kept going. Tillemann was 20 years old in 1964, and he had already spent eight months in a Communist prison for trying to cross the Berlin Wall, which had been erected three years earlier, cutting East Germany off from the outside world. Embarrassed by the millions fleeing their socialist utopia for democracy and a better life in the West, the Communist authorities sealed the borders. When the wall went up, families were divided overnight. For Tillemann, there was a beloved second sister stranded across the forbidding divide. We werent even allowed to watch West German TV, he says. They actually turned the antennas round so we couldnt receive it. My father had to wait eight years for a car, and all he got was a Trabant. But there were party officials living near us, and they had imported foreign cars. It made us angry He tried to climb over the wall, but he was caught and sentenced to eight months. He was lucky: Many died. The motto of the border guards was No one gets through, and the strip of land you had to cross to get to the wall was known as the Death Strip. When Tillemann was released from prison, he still wanted to get to West Berlin, but he knew he was running out of time: His call-up papers for compulsory military service had arrived. The sister who remained in the East introduced him to some West German students. West Germans but not West Berliners were allowed into East Berlin on day trips, and they were there as undercover couriers with a remarkable piece of news: Some fellow West Berlin students were digging a tunnel under the wall to get people out of the East. It was agreed that Tillemann would take the risk, together with his sister and her family And so they settled into the long wait for news, hoping the tunnel would be ready before Tillemann had to report for military service in October. Across the wall, in West Berlin, they were digging. Students worked round the clock in back-breaking 12-hour shifts. Among them was Joachim Neumann, an East Berliner who had been one of the last to escape with a borrowed foreign passport in 1961. He had been expecting his girlfriend, Christa, to follow a few weeks later, but the border guards discovered the passport ruse and prevented her from leaving. My girlfriend and my friends were stuck in East Berlin. Id promised them when I left that I would try to help them get to West Berlin, he says. There had been previous escapes under the wall, so Neumann and his friends decided to dig their own. They joined forces with another group who were working on the same idea, and gave up their studies to devote their time to the gruelling digging. We were young, we were strong, we were optimistic, he says with a smile. But things didnt go according to plan. They struck a water pipe and the tunnel flooded; and they had to bring the opening forward a month. They got some East Berliners out, but Christa was away on holiday, and Neumann had no way of getting word to her. He decided to try again, but his second tunnel was a disaster. It was discovered by the Stasi, People worked on the tunnel round the clock in 24-hour shifts. Andy Irwin pAndylrwin23 Follow Pope Resigns. mm How do Canadians know if it's true (or not)? They turn to the trusted source: Newspapers in print, online, tablet and phone. And, research finds that they trust the ads there too - more than those in any other medium. Be where Canadians look. NEWSPAPERS CANADA LEADER-POST i t

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