Attempted escapes

Pretty soon after the Wall and barbed wire were put up in 1961, Tennstedt made several escape attempts, two of them with the opera singer Rolf Oberste-Brink. The plan was as follows: they wanted to cross the Baltic Sea to Denmark in a collapsible boat. The back seat of Rolf Oberste-Brink's old VW Beetle was removed so that both boat and outboard motor could fit inside.

Rolf Oberste-Brink: This boat was stored in the garage. My wife and I often took it apart, tied it up in bundles and secretly brought it into the apartment. We practiced there how to assemble the boat in the dark: No flashlight, so that no one would see us, and who would take over which handle? We could only try that out inside our apartment.

A second car held the other fugitives, Tennstedt, Mrs Oberste-Brink and an operetta tenor. The driver of this car was their colleague Kurt Helm. If all went well, he would drive the car back to Schwerin on his own. Officially, they were all going on a ’holiday trip’, past Rostock to Darsser Ort, about 150 kilometers along bumpy country roads.

Darsser Ort (Darßer Ort) was a hotspot for escape attempts at that time, as it lay so close to Denmark. The mainland opposite couldn’t be seen from there as it was too far below the horizon, but a lightship was anchored halfway between Darsser Ort and Gedser, the southernmost tip of Denmark. No longer in existence, it was called the Gedser Rev and was just inside the Danish twelve-mile zone. This was what the four Republic fugitives planned to board, and ask to be taken in. They had no idea how to get onto the deck over the ship’s steep sides. Nor whether the lightship was even manned. They merely assumed. Any experience with the wind and waves of the Baltic Sea? None. A suicide mission in the making.

Did they succeed? Find out in the book.

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