ALRIGHT, so these next few “History in Gifs” will be looking at a particularly fun subject that I like to delve into: AMAZING BERLIN WALL ESCAPES. People got very creative and desperate when getting over the Wall; whether it was forging documents, tricking guards, lying to the government, or straight up trying to climb over the damn thing, an estimated 5,000 people escaped to the West through the Wall.
I’m going to cover some of the greatest of those 5,000 escapes.
First up is the story of Wolfgang Engles. As a teenager, he worked as a driver for the East German Army. You can probably, already, see where this is going.
Teenager + “driver” + reckless ambition = a story to tell
He grew up with a very staunch Socialist background, whose mother worked (secretly) for the Stasi. In 1961, he actually arrived in East Berlin for the first time when he was tasked to help build the wall.
This story takes place two years later, in the spring of 1963. Disillusioned by the blind patriotism of “The Party” that many of his associates had, he hatched a thorough, foolproof plan to escape:
Drive a goddamn tank through the wall.
There is literally no way this plan could go wrong in any sense.
Being a driver for the Army made it a little bit easier for him. A few days before 1 May (Labour Day), he saw that a bunch of army dudes had just left around a few brand new armoured vehicles, in preparation for the annual May Day parade.
He got the guys to teach him how the tanks drove (probably with liquor) and then - he put his plan into motion.
On 13 April 1963, waiting until the army crews went to lunch, Engles got into one of the cars and went on the most epic joyride of his life. Nobody noticed the random tank driving through, because this was East Berlin and that was just an average Tuesday.
On the way he offered a few bystanders a ride - “I’m leaving for the West, who’s coming?” were his famous words, and they were met with famous looks of “what the fuck?”
“Weird guys in tanks” are the same as “weird guys in windowless vans” in the GDR
WHEN HE REACHED THE WALL, despite revving up the engine and going the whopping 15 miles per hour speeds those things probably reach, he couldn’t break through straight through, and there was still a layer of solid concrete between him and freedom.
By this time of course, Border guards had heard reports of “holy shit some fuckbag just tried to drive a tank through the fucking wall” and went over to check it out.
The tank was stuck, but Engles wasn’t - he climbed out of the tank and proceeded to just climb over the rest of the fucking thing, because there was no way he was going to just stop now, god damn it!
Border guards were shooting at him, and at the top of the wall was a lovely boquet of barbed wire to greet him.
While this was going on, West German border guards were watching the scene unfold (popcorn in hand, probably), and, like cheering on their favourite reality TV star, fired back at the East Germans to cover for him and distract the guards. It was like an epic shootout, except with a stalled tank, a shitty wall, and a bloody teenager.
Back on the West, there was a bar nearby. A few people (“Half of them were plastered,” Engles would later report) came out and saw the scene - the gunshots, the bloody kid dangling from the barbed wire, the tank - and decided that this shit was too epic to pass up.
“wwe gotta go help…the kid…with the thing… ‘n the guns…”
They rushed over, formed a human ladder, and got the kid down. They took him back to the bar where the owner closed up shop, and they proceeded to tend to his wounds.
Engles was out, but not for long - when he awoke, he claimed that he knew he was safely in the West when he saw all the varieties of Western alcohol on the shelves.
The first thing he asked for was a cognac or a beer.
In the image above, East German officers congregate around the tank Engles smashed through the Berlin Wall.
SRI LANKA, Colombo : Sri Lankan Kandyan dancers ride on the back of a truck during a May Day rally in Colombo on May 1, 2014. Sri Lankan workers are marking International Labour Day which falls on May 1. AFP PHOTO/ Ishara S. KODIKARA