The Idea to Build a Hot Air Balloon

Since Peter Strelzyk and I, Günter Wetzel worked together at the beginning of 1978, we frequently had the opportunity to speak with each other. Like many East German citizens we too had the ultimate aim to leave East Germany and that was frequently the topic about which we spoke.

Life in East Germany was far from satisfactory for us. There was a whole list of things we found objectionable because we had to put up with and factor in so many constraints. Fundamental reasons were that it was not possible either publicly or in one’s private circle to voice one’s opinion because one could never be certain whether one or even several persons present were police informers. In addition, opportunities to travel to countries other than a few others in the Eastern Bloc were either nonexistent or extremely limited. Even the job one could choose was limited, especially if one was not true to the Party line. One could make one’s life easier by becoming involved with the authorities in the correct manner e.g. by being a member of the Communist Party and helping the state authorities but I did not want that either. There were of course many other reasons which I cannot list here but economic motives also played a role.

Like so many others, we spoke again and again about leaving East Germany but saw no way of pulling it off because the border seemed impossible to cross.

By sheer chance my wife Petra’s sister, who had already left East Germany in 1958, came to visit us and brought with her a newspaper in which the annual International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, USA was reported. Next to the report were also a few pictures of the hot air balloons. Seeing this is what gave me the idea that a balloon could be used to get over the border fortifications.
I immediately told Peter Strelzyk about my idea.
It was clear to us from the outset that if we were to escape, everyone would have to come. We were also certain that doing so by air was the only possible way since there were eight of us altogether – 4 adults and 4 children. I remember the day we made this decision very well as it was 7th March 1978, one day before International Women’s Day which was actively celebrated in East Germany.
The next day, the 7th March, the decision was made that we would try to leave the East Germany in this way.

After we both agreed that we would attempt to escape from East Germany by balloon, we had to inform our wives about our plans and convince them that doing so would be safe and secure.

We presented our ideas very convincingly and objectively because both my wife Petra and Peter Strelzyk’s wife Doris agreed to them.