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In 1961 Communist East Germany begins construction on the Berlin Wall. East German swimming champion Harry Melchior (Heino Ferch) already wants to get out, but his sister Lotte (Alexandria Maria Lara) fears that an escape attempt into West Berlin would be too dangerous for her young daughter. Harry reluctantly leaves Lotte behind, but swears that he will return to rescue her. Once safely in the West, Harry teams up with his best friend Matthis (Sebastian Koch), an engineer, and they plan a near-impossible project. Nine harrowing months and 145 meters later, despite cave-ins, flooding and Stasi spies, the team breaks through the cellar of a building in East Berlin. Having defied the ever-present dangers of failure and death, Harry and his team now guide Lotte, as well as 28 others, into the freedom of the West.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This true story about one of the many tunnel escape attempts under the Berlin wall in the 60s provides all the excitement of an escape movie, given extra depth and resonance by its real life genesis. The oppressive East German comrades are portrayed not with malice but with a profound sadness, as if they had made the wrong turn down a dead end road.

The details of the story are crucial and they are superbly realised. Performances are flawless, with Sebastian Koch and Heino Ferch leading a team of actors who draw us into the tense situation with passion and power. Notable, too, are Claudia Michelsen as Carola, who plays a crucial role in the story as the compromised, pregnant wife of escaped Matthis (Koch); and Nicolette Krebits as Fritzi, the young woman on the team, with a boyfriend stuck on the East side of the wall.

The story begins on the eve of the start of construction of the Berlin wall in 1961, a clear sign that the East German Government intends to imprison its citizens and make them live under the wonderful, comradely Communist regime - whether they like it or not. Matthis is one of those who immediately realises the longer term implicatrions and wants to make a run for it. But during the attempt, he and his wife are separated and only he makes it to the West. Champion swimmer Harry Melchior (Ferch) also makes his escape, and in his case it's his sister who remains behind, afraid for her baby. Harry and Matthis, who is an engineer, join to try and rescue their loved ones - and soon have a major enterprise on their hands.

The achievement here is to make a tunnel escape film somehow fresh and engaging, after so many others, notably from World War II. But the filmmakers manage it with a tremendous sense of veracity that engulfs us in the dangers of the characters; tops technically, with excellent production design, this truly is a superb film. Not surprisingly, it has won several major awards.

The DVD contains a snappy and interesting 25 minute featurette on the making of the film, showing how the tunnel was recreated at Babelsberg studios and includes interviews with cast and crew.

Published August 7, 2008

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(Germany, 2001)

CAST: Heino Fersch, Sebastian Koch, Alexandra Maria Lara, Nicolette Krebitz, Claudia Michelsen, Felix Eitner, Mehmet Kurtulus, Heinrich Schmeider, Uw Kockisch

PRODUCER: Nico Hofman,Ariane Krampe

DIRECTOR: Roland Suso Richter

SCRIPT: Johannes W. Betz


EDITOR: Peter R. Adam

MUSIC: Harald Kloser, Thomas Wanker


RUNNING TIME: 160 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Making of featurette


DVD RELEASE: August 2, 2008

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