Harry Melchior (Heino Ferch), an East German swimming champion, defects to the West in 1961, the year of the Wall, but his beloved sister and her family are left behind. To help them escape, he and his engineer friend Matthis (Sebastian Koch) devise the scheme of a tunnel from West Berlin to East. With the aid of about 30 friends, they dig a hole the length of two soccer fields, as Melchior’s sister receives anxious, furtive messages. The East German state police are listening too.
This engrossing movie, written by Johannes W. Betz and directed Roland Suso Richter, plays like The Great Escape in German. And like that Steve McQueen blockbuster, it is based on a true story. For Hasso Herschel, the real-life swimming champ who defected to the West, insurrection was nothing new; he had spent years in jail for his participation in the 1953 protests in East Berlin against the communist government. In a making-of extra, Herschel recalls both the back-stooping ordeal of digging the tunnel and the unwavering belief that it had to be done. Staring into the mouth of the movie tunnel, he smiles and says, “It’s much smaller than I remember it.”
Next Good Bye, Lenin!