Berlin Wall 30th anniversary: Remembering the last person killed trying to escape to the west

Berlin Wall 30th anniversary: Remembering the last person killed trying to escape to the west
By Caroline MortimerLena Roche
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Winfried Freudenberg died after falling from the hot air balloon he used to fly over the Berlin wall


The widow of the last person to die trying to cross the Berlin Wall says he might still be alive today if they had waited just a few months to attempt their escape.

Winfried Freudenberg was a 32-year-old engineer living in East Berlin with his wife Sabine in the first months of 1989 when he attempted to escape over the wall via hot air balloon.

The couple had planned to make their escape together but were discovered while attempting to inflate the balloon during the night.

The pair had just 30 seconds to decide what to do. They decided Winfried would make the attempt to escape while Sabine would stay behind.

With the balloon not fully inflated and sitting on a wooden broom handle instead of a basket Winfried was pushed from Blankenberg in the east of the city to Zehlendorf in the west without being able to control it.

The balloon eventually rose to over 5,000 metres in the air where temperatures can drop to as low as -20C.

After flying for five hours Winfried either let go or lost grip on the broom and crashed to the ground in Zehlendorf.

His body was found the following afternoon in a local park.

Meanwhile, his wife was facing interrogation by the Stasi - the East German secret police.

She was released after a few weeks and just seven months after her husband’s death the Berlin wall came down.

Sabine Freudenberg told Euronews: “I was thinking about (Winfried) the whole time. That was what was keeping me from going over there. He was just dead. Since March. Now it was only November and he was dead because the wall was closed.

“I think he would still be alive if we had waited a few months. And that was so sad. That was so terribly incomprehensible for me.

“What if he were here and he could see that? And now he can’t see it anymore. Grief, only grief”.

Corrected: This story has been updated to reflect that the couple had only seconds to decide how to escape with the hot air balloon.

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