From a todays perspective it is almost impossible to picture that there was a locked up invisible sea border  running just outside the beautiful beach of Kuehlungsborn. The GDR (East Germany) did not spare any effort, expenses and manpower to stop escapes to West Germany. But every now and then some brave and lucky ones managed to outwit the heavily equipped and armed border surveillance of East Germany. They tried it by swimming, with small paddleboats, surfboards or even self constructed submarines.

Escape attempts and escapees

5,609 escape attempts were registered since 1961. Only 913 of them were succesful. For the most (4516)  the escape ended before it had begun – in an arrest at the beach or inland. 180 persons lost their lifes. Courage and inventiveness distinguished the escapees. For the dream of freedom they risked everything. They prepared the escape for years, designed and built special boats or diving devices. A very few managed to flee without preaparation and reach West Germany with a lot of luck.

Escape routes

The destination of the escapes were the coasts of Schleswig Holstein, the Island of Fehmarn and Denmark. Majority of escapees tried to reach the international shipping routes in ordert o be rescued. Only some accomplished that. Even a few were rescued and then returned tot eh east german border control.

The Baltic sea was especially in autum and winter stormy, very cold and unpredictable. That explains the number of people who died while trying to flee. They were found washed ashore in Denmark and West Germany and could not be identified

Lists of escapes

Escapes were not published in East Germany and it is difficult to give an exact overview. Many cases were just discovered in the recent years. Thererfore completing  our list of escapes is an ongoing process.


Most escapes were reported in the West German newspapers. The more spectacular the escape the higher was the interest in the media. The majority of the East German population did not know anything of those escapes.