Going Underground In Berlin, The Tunnel

Going Underground In Berlin, The Tunnel

Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Second Sight 

Release date: April 25th 2011
Certificate (UK): 12
Running time: 160 minutes

Original language: German with English subtitles
Year of production: 2001

Director: Roland Suso Richter

Cast: Heino Ferch, Nicolette Krebitz, Sebastian Koch, Alexandra Maria Lara, Claudia Michelsen, Florian Panzner

On the morning of Sunday, August 13, 1961 when the German Democratic Republic began construction on a wall to cut off West Berlin from East Berlin and East Germany, many feared their lives as they knew it would change forever. And they were right.

The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years, and in that time countless tunnels were planned as escape passageways to help people get from East to West.

The Tunnel

The Tunnel is the story of the most famous one. It’s loosely based on real life events when Hasso Herschel, with the help of others, began constructing a tunnel to get his sister safely through to the West. Herschel, for his efforts, remains one of the most famous smugglers, helping for years to get people across the borders, either by tunnels or with papers.

Although names and events have been altered, the story at its core remains the same.

East German swimming champion Harry Melchior (Heino Ferch) and his best friend Matthis (Sebastian Koch) flee to the West to escape the communist regime just before the borders are sealed, but Harry’s sister, Lotte (Alexandra Maria Lara), along with Matthis’s pregnant wife Carola (Claudia Michelsen) are left behind.

The Tunnel

Unwilling to let them remain in the GDR, they are joined by others to construct a tunnel 7 metres underground and over a hundred metres in length beneath the Wall to smuggle their loved ones across. It’s a daring plan and every step of the way there is danger of betrayal and discovery.

It’s quite a lengthy film therefore it tends to drag on a bit. After an hour, the story either doesn’t move or the characters aren’t really giving you information, instead events are “dramatised” so there’s a lot of going back and forth, melodrama for its own sake and moments of “near discovery” but overdoing seems redundant when we already know the outcome.

The Tunnel

That being said, there are some truly heart wrenching scenes. A young woman, Fritzi Scholz (Nicolette Krebitz), joins the group, and although they are suspicious of her at first, they learn that her fiancé Heiner (Florian Panzner) is also in the East and she wants to get him across.

Despite all of Harry’s attempts, the couple are doomed and there is nothing he can do in the face of such adversity.

I do wonder sometimes what it’s like to live in a place where movement is not just restricted, but “verboten”. Journalist and author, Christopher Hilton published his book The Wall in 2001. In it he collects interviews with people from Berlin who share their memories of what it was like to live in such a city. One such interviewee recounts:

“I had never been to West Berlin. I’d seen it from the S-Bahn and from gliders, because I had tried that. You could approach the border line up to 5 kilometres and the allowed height was 2,500 metres, and that means you can see a lot. So I’d seen the wall, and forests and the houses in the south of West Berlin.”

The Tunnel

I’d grown up in East London, but can never imagine West London in the same way as West Berlin back then. Perhaps that’s because I take such freedoms for granted.

Had I known London in the way East Berliners knew Berlin, I’d understand more what such divisions mean and why people like Herschel risked life in prison and even death, just for the chance to see his loved ones again.

Hilton, C (2001) The Wall, Sutton Publishing

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