In the early Cold War, it was still possible to escape to the West. In the eight months before the construction of the Berlin Wall (1961), 200,000 people had successfully fled. The GDR faced a problem – it was being bled dry of its important workforce, including many intellectuals and skilled workers: medical doctors, scientists and teachers.
After the construction of the Berlin Wall, few options were open to East Berliners who wanted to defect. They had to escape over the wall and past the automatic guns mounted in it. Border guards had been ordered to shoot anyone trying to escape and people died trying to get over the wall.
This still did not prevent others from trying ingenious ways of escape, such as drifting over the wall in a hot air balloon, hiding in a secret compartment in a modified car, ramming the border gates, or swimming across a canal.
Some escapes attempts were betrayed to the GDR by informers, and the escapees were either shot or imprisoned. On 6 February 1989, Chris Gueffroy became the last person to be killed trying to escape over the wall.