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What was the big deal with escaping from East Germany?

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Lotus49, Oct 9, 2007.

  1. storealex

    storealex In service of peace

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    I knew I could do it, provided that I was alone, and that I was the person I am today. Had I been raised in DDR and lived there all my life, I would no doubt be a very different person, who might not be able to pull it off.

    To escape, first prepare.

    - Spend a lot of time, thinking it through, learning everything you need to know. It might take a year or more.

    - I knew DDR had some kind of millitaristic boy scout organisation. Sort of a mix between Hitler Jugend and normal boy scouts. Perfect training facility. Learn how to use a compass and a map. Learn how to survive in the wild. Learn the system from within. That might be an option, but there are many ways to learn this stuff. The army being one of them, or just have a trusted friend or relative learn you the basics. You don't have to tell him you're planning to escape. Just pretend you love spending time in the nature (Which in my case, you don't even have to pretend)

    - Get away. People did go on vacation you know... Sure I would still be somewhere on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, but at least it would take me away from Berlin. The ideal place would be 1. Loosly populated and 2. Close the the border. Once there, spend time surveying the area, gather information. Collect butterflyes or some crap, so everyone thinks you're some kind of insect geek (Of course beforehand, you have learned everything there is to know about butterflyes and brought books along with you, so it seems real) Alternatively, you could go there several times over the years, so people there would get used to your pressence.

    - Pack the right stuff. Forget shooting the dog. Instead leave a trail of pebber or something else, that will completely screw up the dogs nose, without causing a lot of noise. Bring maps, money, compass, papers, clothing that will hide you, without causing suspicion (black or dark brown coat etc).
    Forget stealing food from farms, too risky. Canned food and the dark rye bread made in Germany, can feed you for long periods, without you having to pack loads of it. Then all you have to resupply is water, which is fairly easy.

    - Timing. Move through the right terrain, at the right time. The most risky places at night.
     
  2. ParkCungHee

    ParkCungHee Deity

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    You're assuming right of free travel throughout East Germany. This did not exist. If lived in Berlin you stayed in Berlin, unless you could get some official clearance to travel.
     
  3. Thorbal

    Thorbal not enough ram!

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    As I have been to some places along the inner-German border in those days, I might say that those are quite "light" fortifications compared to most of them! I´ve wondered myself how anybody could pass them. It is very hard to imagine the situation nowadays - there just was no point where you could pass through without being spotted by the guards. So a lot of people tried getting away with small, selfmade boats, trying to evade the coastal patrols as a result ( which was not more successful either ) . And the sheer amount of spring guns, mines and border patrols was terrifying in every aspect.

    And gathering information, as Storealex proposed, was completely out of the question as well. I had ( well,have ) relatives living in a village in the "zone" as we called the GDR then, a few kilometers away from the border. The guards etc. would not even let you remotely close to the border, no matter the reason. If they saw you going into the general direction, still far out of sight from the border fortifications, you should prepare for a very thorough and unpleasant interrogation. You just did not approach the border under any circumstances as a GDR citizen, whatever the reason. I have visited them a few times back then in the late eighties when it was becoming easier to "legally" pass the border eastwards for a short time and with a reason, and the area around the border was really a no mans land which was many kilometers wide and literally *covered* with defensive measures and patrols.
     
  4. Verbose

    Verbose Deity

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    And lets not forget that East Germany was a society where about 10% of the population were police informers. Keeping things secret like going off to reconoitre someplace you're not supposed to be would be very hard to do without someone somewhere taking notice, at which point an "overcoat" could be provided, without you noticing.

    You are living in a Workers' and Farmers' state so you will have a job (even if it might be a Mickey Mouse one), one you can't just decide not to show up for without questions being asked. The kind of job you get would depend on skills, but more importantly on what the State assigns you to. Failure to comply makes you a Social Parasite up for some strong measures. It's not as if choosing a career is something your expected to do. Ambition is not necessarily a good thing.
    (My prediction is that Lotus would end in juvenile prison early, considered a Troublemaker, and would either become an "antisocial" criminal banged up, or a docile "reformed" character with his spirit broken, possibly both.)

    The authorities would also want your parents/children/spouse to report on you, most likely making sure they persuaded them to do so out of actual concern for your well-being. The East German intelligence community was very, very good. You have to be, to place a spy in the inner circle of the West German Chancellor. They made your average Russian Bolshy Chekist look like the gorilla he was by comparison.

    It was also a society where things were organised for you. Most seem to assume that as a private citizen you could somehow go off hiking like the most natural thing in the world. But why would you want to do that when the Party provides? Do you have a problem with the Party? You like hiking? I'm sure your local FDJ has a great organised activity for hikers, all legit and unproblematic. Why would you want it otherwise?

    It's also this thing about information. Both Lotus and Storealex have mentioned maps. What maps? Detailed maps were classified information not available to private citizens for Reasons of State. They still are in some of the former Soviet republics.

    So, you will have a devil of a time learning the land before you make a break for it. At least you need a cast iron explanation and official permission to do so. Or you have to have security clearence sufficient to get your hand on classified information.

    Which means the best way to get out of East Germany is to join the Party and make a carreer as a loyal servant of the State. Then you will have opportunities. How willing to use them you will be by then is another matter. After all, people like academics loyal to the state definately got permission to travle abread. I met quite a few in the 80's. Very loyal people.
     
  5. Flak

    Flak vBülletin Förum

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    Lots of families were split up.
     
  6. Ziggy Stardust

    Ziggy Stardust New Englander

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    I was in Berlin this summer for holidays.

    I can tell you, the stories and visiting Checkpoint Charlie Museum made quite an impression on me. It made it clear to me what horrible and wonderfull creatures humans are.
     
  7. IglooDude

    IglooDude Enforcing Rule 34 Retired Moderator Supporter

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    I think the problem you (Lotus) are having is a sort of Dilbert-esque one: because you're not familiar with the problem, you think it is easily solved.

    Verbose and others have pointed out some difficulties. You're in a country where information (particularly on the border security) is not available in your local library, and there was no internet. You're as likely to be asking an informer about it as someone that is actually willing to give you information (which may be 'friend of a friend' semi-myth). And yes, there really was a wall all the way across.

    Obviously it wasn't impossible, but it was hard enough.
     
  8. storealex

    storealex In service of peace

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    Thorbal and Verbose, you are both assuming that I meant somewhere in Eastern Germany, while in fact I wrote somewhere on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. Surely it was possibly to get clearrence to go to another communist country in Eastern Europe, under some false pretext such as vacation.
    And surely, though there would still be borderguards, secret police and all that in all the countries, there would be plenty of places, where it would be much easier to escape than in Germany it self. I doubt it would be impossible to find maps in Yugoslavia for an example. Of course you would need to prepare for a long time, as I already stated. You could also join the army/borderguards and obtain maps that way.

    The thing is, that Lotus make it sound like piece of cake, and you guys make it sound nearly impossible. But, after all, many did accomplish it. There's even a guy in this thread whose family accomplished it. Maybe they were lucky, maybe they were smart, but one thing is certain - they were not the only ones.
     
  9. Ziggy Stardust

    Ziggy Stardust New Englander

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    Storealex, the destinations of your holiday were severely limitted. Not all communist countries were allowed, especially those near the border.In some hotels 70% of the staff were informers. And of course you never knew who they were.
     
  10. storealex

    storealex In service of peace

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    Ziggy, all Im saying is that more than 200.000 people maneged to do it.
     
  11. Ziggy Stardust

    Ziggy Stardust New Englander

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    Of course, it's far from impossible. But it wasn't without serious risk either. But if you limit people's freedom, you will find they will risk a lot to get it back. It sure as hell wasn't easy. I don't have the figures but also lots of people were locked up or died trying.

    edit: I was merely commenting on that holiday part :)
     
  12. Stolen Rutters

    Stolen Rutters Deity

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    @OP

    Why didn't you just run to the border? Spies. Berlin was NOT at the border. It was in the middle of East Germany. You can't leave the city without papers, so you'd have to forge those. Your comings and goings are recorded.

    For people living in the city, you would have had to pass through or near at least twenty little towns to get to the border. You are prohibited from leaving your town or travel on roads without papers, on pain of prison or death. How many towns do you think you will be able to bribe the government agents, the soldiers on the roads, the farmers who would be "detained" if they don't turn you in? It's possible but it's not easy, especially if everyone was doing it.

    (Motion sensor automatic machine guns? That's a new one. They must have really made efforts to keep their poopulation from escaping.)

    Spies. Your brother or sister is rewarded for turning you in, and maybe sent to prison for letting you go, especially if you caused alot of embarrassment for your success. Think about that.

    Yep, it can be done. It would take you a lot of effort to not get shot or caught, especially considering the level of control the government had over the population. You ain't in the free world in your scenario.

    I would guess you would be one of the ones that made it, or would die trying anyway.

    edit - Ah most of this stuff was already covered. I guess I'm :deadhorse:
     
  13. Grisu

    Grisu Draghetto Retired Moderator

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    well, plenty of people do exactly that, and while many come through, just as many get caught. The huge difference is, if you get caught sneaking into Switzerland, you might be arrested and ultimately you'll be sent back home. I you got caught trying to flee the DDR, I doubt that you'll live much longer, the biggest problem was not 'not getting caught' but the huge risk of what will happen to you if that happens (you know a 50% chance of death seems to discourage a lot...
    as for alpine hikes...this would probably be the worst way to get into here...there are only a fixed number of ways to cross the mountains (unless you're a serious climber) and those are easily picked out by border patrols...try the western border instead.

    Then one day, you "go for a swim" out in the river outside of town, dressed half naked (making the REDS blush), and you never get caught, with a friend saying you were pulled under by the current.[/QUOTE]
    that made me laugh. Only a american would get the idea the swimming half-naked (or even naked) would make the red (and the east germans of all) blush.

    sure you do, the question is just if you leave alive or not....
     
  14. holy king

    holy king Deity

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    @OP

    go to mexico with a woman and 2-3 small children and try to get back to the usa without a passport. then imagine security about 5 times as high and you'll have at least some idea how hard it was...

    alternatively you could try the same on the inner korean border, its not hard to get a visum to north korea as a tourist at all (although you wont move freely for any second there), that would give you an even better and more realistic idea...
     
  15. Thorbal

    Thorbal not enough ram!

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    Ok, I misunderstood you there, I thought you meant East Germany. I don´t know about the security measures on the other borders, though.
    Regarding the difficulty, I meant to relativise - I wanted to point out that the inner-German border was not a "classic" "green" or lightly guarded border and that it was much more heavily guarded than any other border today ( except Korea perhaps ) .

    I think you are right there, but, iirc, most of them did escape before the border/Berlin wall was as fortified as it got in the sixties and later on.
     
  16. Winner

    Winner Diverse in Unity

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    The Czechoslovakian borders with Austria and Germany:









    (they cleared long strips of forests in order to build a fence and a road there)





    These were electric fences, guarded by thousands of soldiers who had orders to shoot on sight. Do you think nobody tried to escape? Do you really think nobody had a good plan? :eek:

    Yeah, and did I mention that they depopulated the areas near the borders with the West? Entire villages were abandoned and destroyed.
     
  17. Verbose

    Verbose Deity

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    Fair enough. You'd definately have a better chance if trying to pull it off from somewhere like Chezhoslavakia or Hungary than East Germany.
    (And I did state that in my opinion the best way to gain opportunities for defection is to become a reliable part of the system. Only then your priorities might change in the process.)

    One of my dad's cousin's husband in a Hungarin phycisist she smuggled out of there (hidden under a false bottom in a huge trunk in a railway compartment) in the 1960's. But that also part of the problem. With nowhere to go in the West and no one reliable on the outside to aid you, odds would be much lower for pulling this off.

    But you're right that the enumration of obstacles are prompted by Lotus' attitude that he somwhow can't see what the big problem was. Sorry if you felt unnecessarily picked upon.:)
     
  18. Verbose

    Verbose Deity

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    Some things about that figure.

    Is it post the erection of the "Antifascist Defensive Wall" (die antifaschistische Shutzwall) or for the entire history of the DDR?

    Because the wall went up in an effort to stop the depopulation of East Germany. It was bleeding people like crazy in the 1950's. Afaik once the wall went up the escapes went from a mighty river to a intermittent slow tricke, and then just the occasional drop in the 80's.

    But otoh in the 1980's East Germany started selling their old used up citizens to the Federal Republic for hard currency, which might also enter into a general figure of people making it out of there. (The BRD paid up to finally reunite families.)
     
  19. willemvanoranje

    willemvanoranje Curitibano

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    Nope, but it had many of the same characteristics. Of course it was only a couple of meters instead of kilometers, but there was the trenchwire, outposts with gunmen, automatic firing mechanisms, landmines... risky stuff.
     
  20. Henrik

    Henrik Emperor

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    There is generally a lot less underdeveloped countryside in europe compared to the US. Here controlling a border is a lot more doable as there isn't much wilderness. :)
     

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