In 1963-64 tunnel builders dug two escape tunnels towards East Berlin. The tunnels began in the basement of a bakery at Bernauer Straße 97, located on the west side of the city. The building no longer exists today; it was replaced by new buildings in the 1970s. The first tunnel took five months to build. It was finished in January 1964. But it unintentionally ended in a coal storage area right behind the border strip, in clear view of the border guards. Three young women were able to flee through this tunnel before it was discovered.
A few months later the tunnel builders used the same basement to attempt a second tunnel. This tunnel ran twelve meters under the surface all the way to Strelitzer Straße 55. On October 3-4, 1964, 57 people succeeded in escaping through the tunnel known as “Tunnel 57”, but it was betrayed on the second night. Border soldiers and one of the tunnel builders got entangled in an exchange of fire during which Sergeant Egon Schultz was killed. He had accidentally been shot by one of his comrades. The East German government covered up the circumstances and portrayed Schultz as a hero. It named border regiments, schools and streets after him. Strelitzer Straße, the cross-street here, was also named after him. It was not until 1989 that Schultz`s relatives and the public learned the truth that the fatal shot had not been fired by one of the escape helpers, after all.
The markings in the ground in front of you show the location of the tunnels.
At least ten escape tunnels were built on Bernauer Straße between 1962 and 1971, but only three were actually used for escapes. Many of the tunnel projects failed because of the difficult building conditions, because they were betrayed to the police or because of counter measures taken by the Ministry for State Security. The Stasi installed listening devices within the border strip and built its own tunnels to intersect at areas where they expected to find escape tunnels. The location of one of the Stasi tunnels is also marked in the ground.
The third successful tunnel was dug by West Berlin students in 1962 and began in the basement of a factory ruin at Bernauer Straße 78. Water leakages made digging very difficult and almost caused the operation to fail. The tunnel builders were able to reach the basement of Schönholzer Strasse 7 on September 14, 1962. On two nights, 29 people managed to crawl through mud and leaking water to escape to West Berlin. A film team from the American broadcast station NBC filmed their arrival. Pictures of the dramatic escapes were seen all over the world. The Stasi learned about the tunnel from the western press. It discovered the tunnel eleven days later when the ground collapsed in a back courtyard in the border area.