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Experience: I tunnelled under the Berlin Wall

My real fear was the border guards and Stasi, who were listening for movement beneath the ground and digging their own tunnels to intercept ours

In 1961, I was 21 and studying civil engineering in East Germany. I was desperate to escape to the west; the Berlin Wall, which started going up in August 1961, was becoming more impregnable every week. By winter, scores of people had been killed there or while trying to swim across the River Spree. It felt as if we were penned in, with no future at all.

I was lucky. I managed to cross into West Berlin using a smuggled Swiss passport. I had to leave my girlfriend, Christa, and family behind, thinking I would never see them again. I’d told my parents of my plan, but not Christa: I thought our relationship would be over. When I arrived in West Berlin, I had nothing but the clothes I was wearing. I got some state support as a refugee, and enrolled at another university, but I missed Christa and my family.

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