Der Tunel (The Tunnel) (2001) 

 

 

 

Director:  Roland Suso Richter

Starring:  Heino Ferch (Harry Melchior), Nicolette Krebitz (Friederike 'Fritzi' Scholz), Sebastian Koch (Matthis Hiller), Alexandra Maria Lara (Lotte Lohmann), Claudia Michelsen (Carola Hiller), Felix Eitner (Fred von Klausnitz), Mehmet Kurtulus (Vic), Heinrich Schmieder (Theo Lohmann), Uwe Kockisch (Oberst Krger), Karin Baal (Marianne von Krausnitz), Rainer Sellien (Georg Himmrich), Wolf-Dietrich Sprenger (Fotograf Grner), Sarah Kubel (Ina Lohmann), Florian Panzner (Heiner), Dorothea Moritz (Hermine).

escaping from East Berlin to West Berlin via a tunnel

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is the entire story: 

Very good movie.  Based on a true story.  The Berlin Wall divided West Berlin (under France, US, and Britain) and East Berlin (held by Russia).  Many East Berliners risked their lives to escape to West Berlin for, if spotted, the East German guards had orders to shoot to kill.  Under these circumstances, many escaped via tunnels built under the Berlin Wall to West Berlin. 

August 1961, East Berlin, Germany.  Harry Melchior is a champion East German swimmer who wants to escape to West Berlin.  He also wants to arrange the escape of his sister Lotte and her family.  Matthis is his best friend.  He and his wife Carola also want to escape to West Berlin.  Matthis and Carola try to escape via the sewer system, but while Matthis was successful, Carola was captured and put in prison. 

August 26, 1961.  Armed with the right false documents, Harry is able to just walk across the border into West Berlin.  When Col. Kruger of the East Berlin police finds out, he moves Lotte and her family to a town away from Berlin.  The Italian-American Vittorio is able to keep Harry and Lotte in contact via messages that he delivers. 

In order to keep tabs on Harry and Lotte, Col. Kruger turns Carola into an informant and then releases her from prison.  She soon becomes good friends with Lotte.  When Carola sees Vittorio delivering a message to Lotte, she rats on Vittorio to the secret police.  They pick him up and break him down by using solitary confinement in a very narrow space.

Harry and others of a like mind come together to dig a tunnel from West Berlin into East Berlin in order to get more people out of East Germany.  Somehow the American network NBC finds out about the tunnel project and offers each participant $5,000 dollars for permission to film the attempt.  The tunnelers agree to the terms. 

The secret police lets Vittorio go.  Back with Harry and associates, he recognizes a picture of Carola and correctly identifies her as a possible informant.  They set up a test for her, which she fails.  Now they know she is an informant.  Matthias is crushed at the news. 

A young woman named Fritzi joins the tunnel men.  She wants to get her boyfriend Heiner out of East Berlin.  Over time she gets closer to Harry.  When Heiner feels he cannot wait any longer, he attempts to jump over the barbed wire and climb over the Berlin Wall.  An East German soldier kills Heiner.  Fritzi unsuccessfully tries to kill herself. 

The tunnelers finally reach their destination and now must get the word to the would-be escapees.  Fritzi goes into East Berlin to spread the message.  When an East German soldier discovers the tunnel, he is pulled underground by the tunnelers and Harry dresses in his East German uniform and heads into East Berlin.  The reformed Carola bravely leads the secret police on a wild goose chase.  (She gives her baby to Lotte's husband to get the baby to Matthis in West Berlin.)

With Col. Kruger on their trail, Harry and Fritzi are narrowly able to get all the escapees into the tunnel and over to West Berlin and freedom. 

In the 1960s there were dozens of tunnels heading from West Berlin into East Berlin.  By the 1980s Harry had brought at least 1,000 East Germans to freedom in the west.  Fritzi went her own way and never married.  West Germany paid East Germany for the release of Carola in the mid 1970s.   

My wife and I thought it was a great movie.  It kept us on the edge of our chairs and then they have a beautiful, very moving ending with its wonderful reuniting of formerly separated families. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

 

See The Big Lift (1950) .

 

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