Tunnel 29 by Helen Merriman

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Tunnel 29 is an amazing story – a revelation of the risks that some Berliners were prepared to take to escape the restrictions of the East German-sanctioned Berlin Wall or to help those they loved to be reunited. Helena Merriman has documented the inside story of the Tunnel under the Wall and the rescue. The tunnel was built in secret from West Berlin and yet filmed by a CBS film crew, that enabled 29 East German residents to escape to freedom. From both sides of the wall, tunnellers and those seeking freedom from the oppression of East German life, there was great risk and yet they persisted. With great skill Merriman has also outlined the political context that enabled post-war Berlin to become divided in such a physical way, and led to many within Berlin, East and West, becoming spies and informers for the East German Stasi. Into this very political story there is the human angle of the participants, those who survived to tell their story or whose Stasi files were released to reveal the personal history and difficulties they faced. With an NBC film crew also documenting the actual tunnelling and escape, and with considerable political fallout possible if it was discovered, this is a story that reveals the tensions of the Cold War and the impacts for so many in the East and the West.

This is a memoir and a respectful biographical journey into the lives of people who lived in a time of considerable tension. It is powerful and yet surprisingly warm to everyone involved. Even the spy who could potentially betray the operation is portrayed with great humanity, and it is obvious to the reader that this was a miraculous escape and a time of great difficulty. Merriman’s slow unravelling of the story is compelling, almost in the style of a novel, but it is always a piece of non-fiction tunnelling through the truths of a real, but tense, event. I can highly recommend this book to readers interested in political history or real human drama. It is an adult text, but could easily be read and appreciated by younger readers aged 16+

Themes: Berlin Wall, Freedom, International politics, Post-World War II – Cold War.

Carolyn Hull