Building Tunnels on Bernauer Strasse

When the Berlin Wall went up, Joachim Rudolph’s life plans were suddenly up in the air. The student had planned to transfer from the Advanced School of Transit to the Technical University of Dresden where he could study aeronautics. But shortly before the transfer, new regulations were established in the RGW, the socialist economic block, with regard to the economic branches of the specific countries, which prevented it from taking place. He had also heard from other students that they had been forced to enlist in the army in order to continue their studies. Consequently, Joachim Rudolph left the university and resolved to flee to West Berlin.

In search of a way to escape, Joachim Rudolph spent many weeks investigating the border grounds with a friend. In September 1961 they both attempted the escape. On a dark night the two boys crawled from Schildow in the north of Berlin through the Tegeler Fliess waterway and across the border fortifications towards Lübars.

Once in West Berlin Joachim Rudolph continued his studies at the Free University. He met other students there who were looking for ways to help their friends and relatives escape. He joined a group that was digging a tunnel beneath Bernauer Strasse to East Berlin. The group’s members included the Italians Domenico Sesta and Luigi Spina, Hasso Herschel from Dresden and his friend Urich Pfeifer who had escaped through the sewage system. The young men worked hard for many months, digging a cave that was barely a meter high. The project almost failed on a number of occasions due to a water break, but it was finally finished on September 14, 1962. Joachim Rudolph was among the escape helpers who opened the tunnel on the East Berlin side and greeted the fugitives. Over the course of two days, 29 people were able to crawl through the tunnel, including a number of young children and an infant.

Not long after this successful escape project, Joachim Rudolph got involved in the excavation of another tunnel that began at the same factory building at Bernauer Strasse 79 and led to Brunnenstrasse 45. But this tunnel was betrayed by an informer and numerous fugitives and a few escape helpers who were en route as couriers in East Berlin were arrested.

On the first anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall was erected, Joachim Rudolph participated in an act of protest. At noon, the entire traffic around the S-Bahn ring came to a halt. At the same time the emergency brake was pulled on a number of trains of the East German rail company. Although the act of protest evoked much sympathy in West Berlin, Joachim Rudolph was penalized for mischievous behavior. East German railroad employees had caught him in the act, detained him and then handed him over the West Berlin authorities.

Anna von Arnim

Joachim Rudolph

Joachim Rudolph, photo: privat


Joachim Rudolph speaking about the opening of "Tunnel 29"

Excerpt from an oral history interview from January 10, 2001, Berlin Wall Memorial (in German)