Perhaps the most solid symbol of the geopolitical tension of the Cold War was the Wall that stood between East (the German Democratic Republic or GDR) and West Berlin dividing the communist East and the democratic West. The Wall, ordered to be built by Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev, was to halt the fleeing of skilled workers, professionals, and intellectuals. From 1949 to 1961, about 2.5 million of these people crossed into West Germany, unhappy with the living conditions of the East(because Communism). Barbed wires and concrete “antifascist bulwark” were built beginning on August 13, 1961.

To those desperate to leave, the possibility of being shot down was a risk they were willing to take. In fact, 100,000 citizens of the GDR tried to pass the Berlin Wall from 1961 to 1988. More than 600 were shot and killed by the border guards, if not from other ways while trying to escape— drowning, accidents, or committing suicide once caught.

It was the same for the Bethke brothers, who fled and crossed that iron curtain several years apart on three occasions. They were Ingo, Holger, and Egbert.

The three Bethke brothers (from left Holger, Egbert and Ingo)
The three Bethke brothers (from left Holger, Egbert, and Ingo) with their father Claus at Easter 1961. (Photo: Phoenix/ picture-alliance / obs / Spiegel.de)

1/3— Ingo

Ingo Bethke was just seven when the Berlin Wall was erected, thus leaving his family on the eastern side of Germany’s capital. When he grew up, he was called to work as a soldier assigned to guard the border, just like all the other young men required to serve in the People’s Army. However, all those times, all he thought was escaping that very same wall that he was tasked to guard.