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Unearthed photos reveal what happened to those who dared to flee through the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall separated Allied-controlled West Berlin from Soviet-controlled East Berlin from 1961 to 1989. An infamous emblem of the Cold War, the wall’s meaning was far from figurative for those friends, families and communities separated by its 66 miles of concrete, with potentially lethal consequences for those who attempted to cross it illegally. While around 5,000 people made it through to West Berlin, an estimated 200 defectors were shot while trying to escape from the East.

Released on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the short film The Escape Agents takes a novel approach to telling one such defection story. The US filmmaker Scott Calonico obtained a cache of photographs from security service records of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). One sequence in these never-before-seen images shows the arrest of a West German couple and the East German family – a couple and their young child – they were trying to smuggle out in the boot of their car on 3 September 1988. While this arrest was all-too-real, the photographs were in fact staged after the event: the East German guards forced all five people to reenact their attempted escape for training purposes. Working from these photos, the film dramatises the scene from the perspective of the East German mother – one of the estimated 2,000 parents deemed ‘unreliable’ by the GDR whose children were given to politically loyal families.

Director: Scott Calonico

Producer: Jeff Radice

7 November 2019

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