• © Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer
Joachim Neumann |3:15 min

“We housed in the tunnel, like in barracks”

“We housed in the tunnel, like in barracks”
Joachim Neumann speaking about “Tunnel 29”    
Interview 2001, GBM, Length: 3.15 min.

When we joined, the tunnel was just a few meters long, I can’t recall anymore how long, maybe ten meters, but I can’t say for sure. It might have been seven or seventeen. But it was definitely like this: There was a shaft, it was maybe three meters deep and then a tunnel began that was braced by a triangular profile with inserted nuts. Very elaborate. We asked why it had to be so complicated: Well, for one, this was the minimal amount of excavated cross section and secondly, it stays in place better with inserted nuts. But we quickly realized that if we continue this way it was going to take us much too long. So we switched to a rectangular profile and braced it using the method that our colleagues on Wollankstraße had used. But of course there was the problem of trickling sand. So bracing wasn’t enough. But the method was very practical: One beam ran above, crossing lengthwise, and it had openings cut out on the sides. Supports were placed under it and boards were positioned longitudinally from one beam to the next. When that was provisionally in place, the whole thing was pressed up to the roof of the tunnel with a normal car jack and the supports were wedged in so that it was really stable. It was like a mine, I’d say it was really collapse-proof. Yeah, we sometimes housed in there, like in barracks, for one or two weeks at a time. We wanted to keep the traffic in-and-out down to a minimum – so we slept right there instead of heading home after each shift. There was one room for this. As far as I can remember, we were always four or five people on a shift: one dug at the front, one stood below in the shaft and pulled out the barrow with the excavated material and two others pulled it up. Then the matter had to be dispersed throughout the cellar with the wheelbarrow. I can’t recall if we were four or five, but we worked in two shifts, a day shift and a night shift, so we were usually about eight or ten people, sometimes less. Sometimes someone who had to work during the week would join us on the weekends. Or people came who only worked half the night, after they got off work, from six in the evening to two in the morning, and then they went to get a few hours sleep. But as far as I can remember, we also had a real shift schedule so that everyone knew when and where he was assigned to work and if he couldn’t make it one time he had to find a substitute. So the digging was really quite well organized. And I know that we had set the goal that if all went well, if nothing busted, and nothing unexpected happened, that two meters a day was our goal. If we managed that, it was very, very good. Usually it was between 1.5 and 1.8 meters. Two meters was always our ambition. The shifts that actually managed two meters, they were really good.