• Wolfgang Steidler and Udo Drake of Kuehlungsborn escape 1961 with their paddle boat. They encounter navigational problems and have to  tie up to a buoy, a polish freighter collects and surrenders them to the GDR. They go to prison for 1,3 and 1,6 years.

  • Klaus Drafehn of Kuehlungsborn  and Hans Juergen Dreyer  try to flee with their paddle boat to Gedser on the 4.9.1962. Strong winds carry them off course. They land on the island Poel and get arrested on Langenwerder. Sentenced to 6 months in prison.

  • The former engineering student Bernd Boettger is constructing an aquascooter, that pulls him through the water. He begins his escape on the .9.1968 and is rescued after 51/2 hours by a West German boat.

  • The medical doctor Peter Doebler  trains more than two years for his escape in 1972.

  • He swims the distance of 48 km to the island of Fehmarn in 25 hours, equipped with a wetsuit and fins.

  • The two 18 year olds Koch and Trobisch want to escape to their girlfriend in Hamburg in 1972. They are discovered already on the beach with their rubber dinghy. They serve a  prison term of 21/2 years.

  • Family Lehmann and their 5 year old daughter escaped on the 5.1.1977 in the ice cold sea in a tiny rubber boat. They were rescued by a West German ship after 17 hours fighting the waves.

  • The escape of Family Sander ended tragically: quote rom the report „ 5 persons (family Sander of Schwerin) try on the 9.3.77 to break through the border segment GB-3 (area Keuhlungsborn). Two persons succesfully broke through, 3 persons drowned“

  • Werner Liers (27) and Werner Mueller (19) escape on the 30.3.1978. They have problems with orientation and the rubber dinghy is leaking. A West German fisher boat tries to rescue them but a border patrole boat is coming near. They paddle for their lifes and got lucky.

  • The ship eletrician Walter Gerber is building a submarine out of polyester in his home garage...

  • ... equipped with a periscope, dive tanks and breathing device. He is digging a pit under his garage for testing the submarine secretely.

  • Upon his escape attempt on the 12.8.1980 it turns out that the submarine can ot be steered and is turning in circles. he leaves his boat behind at the beach and gets arrested days later.

  • Joern Wiek of Kuehlungsborn and Heiko Jahnke of Rostock need two days for their escape in the year of 1987.  They started their escape from Peninsula Wustrow.

  • The brothers Manfred and Wolfgang Kleistner need 18 months for building their  torpedo shaped boat . They are discovered during their escape and are sentenced to 2 years and 6 months in prison.

  • In 1988 Family Kostbade dares to flee with with four adult persons, Alfred (41), Renate (40), Maarco (19) and Doreen (17) from Kuehlungsborn.

  • They they fight more than 10 hours against waves that are up to 3 feet high in their tiny rubber dinghy. After 40 miles exhausting journey they are rescued by a West German ship .


From a todays perspective it is almost impossible to picture that there was a locked up invisible sea border  running just outside the beautiful beach of Kuehlungsborn. The GDR (East Germany) did not spare any effort, expenses and manpower to stop escapes to West Germany. But every now and then some brave and lucky ones managed to outwit the heavily equipped and armed border surveillance of East Germany. They tried it by swimming, with small paddleboats, surfboards or even self constructed submarines.


Escape attempts and escapees

5,609 escape attempts were registered since 1961. Only 913 of them were succesful. For the most (4516)  the escape ended before it had begun - in an arrest at the beach or inland. 180 persons lost their lifes. Courage and inventiveness distinguished the escapees. For the dream of freedom they risked everything. They prepared the escape for years, designed and built special boats or diving devices. A very few managed to flee without preaparation and reach West Germany with a lot of luck.


escape routes

The destination of the escapes were the coasts of Schleswig Holstein, the Island of Fehmarn and Denmark. Majority of escapees tried to reach the international shipping routes in ordert o be rescued. Only some accomplished that. Even a few were rescued and then returned tot eh east german border control.

The Baltic sea was especially in autum and winter stormy, very cold and unpredictable. That explains the number of people who died while trying to flee. They were found washed ashore in Denmark and West Germany and could not be identified.


list of escapes

Escapes were not published in East Germany and it is difficult to give an exact overview. Many cases were just discovered in the recent years. Thererfore completing  our list of escapes is an ongoing process.



Most escapes were reported in the West German newspapers. The more spectacular the escape the higher was the interest in the media. The majority of the East German population did not know anything of those escapes.