The Tunnel

January 21st, 2001


The Tunnel

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Based on a true story a group of East Berliners escaping to the West. Harry Melchior was a champion East German swimmer at odds with the system under which he has already been imprisoned...

Release Year: 2001

Rating: 7.8/10 (3,283 voted)

Critic's Score: 72/100

Director: Roland Suso Richter

Stars: Heino Ferch, Nicolette Krebitz, Sebastian Koch

Based on a true story a group of East Berliners escaping to the West. Harry Melchior was a champion East German swimmer at odds with the system under which he has already been imprisoned. On his own escape, he is determined the arrange the escape to the West of his sister and her family. The idea of the tunnel is born, but the project does not run smoothly. The participants struggle not only with the massive logistics of their task, but betrayal from friends in the East. And always the East German police are close to discovering the plot.

Heino Ferch - Harry Melchior
Nicolette Krebitz - Friederike 'Fritzi' Scholz
Sebastian Koch - Matthis Hiller
Alexandra Maria Lara - Charlotte 'Lotte' Lohmann
Claudia Michelsen - Carola Langensiep
Felix Eitner - Fred von Klausnitz
Mehmet Kurtulus - Vittorio 'Vic' Castanza
Heinrich Schmieder - Theo Lohmann
Uwe Kockisch - Oberst Krüger
Karin Baal - Marianne von Krausnitz
Dorothea Moritz - Hermine
Wolf-Dietrich Sprenger - Fotograf Grüner
Florian Panzner - Heiner
Sarah Kubel - Ina Lohmann
Ruth Glöss - Mutter Fritzi

Taglines: Berlin. 1961. The true story of a flight to freedom.


Official Website: Home Vision Entertainment | VII Pillars |

Release Date: 21 January 2001

Filming Locations: Berlin, Germany

Box Office Details

Budget: $7,100,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend: $3,127 (USA) (1 May 2005) (2 Screens)

Gross: $10,890 (USA) (12 June 2005)

Technical Specs

Runtime:  | Canada:  | France:  | Germany: (2 parts)  | USA: (theatrical version)

User Review

although a bit fictionalized a still faithful depiction of real events

Rating: 8/10

It's very interesting to compare 'Der Tunnel' with 'Tunnel 28', or 'Escape from East Berlin', which was filmed in 1962. Both are based on a tunnel that was built in May 1962 from a street in West Berlin and ended in a basement in a house in East Berlin. As in 'Der Tunnel', the actual tunnel was built by a group of students, some who wanted to help their families and loved ones escape, some who wanted to help because of their convictions.

'Der Tunnel' is very well acted, especially by Heino Ferch. Ferch's performance as the swimming champion and former prisoner Harry Melchoir is outstanding. Claudia Michelsen turns in a finely nuanced performance as Carola, who is intimidated into informing the East German police about the escape attempt. Sebastian Koch is moving as her husband, who serves as the engineer behind the project, and Mehmet Kurtulus is compelling as Vic, the Italian American who is detained and interrogated as a consequence of Carola's betrayal.

The film shows the streets where the actual tunnel was built (they are probably sets but they depict them accurately, as they must have looked just after the Wall was built). It also reflects the involvement of a NBC film crew. The actual tunnel's building was financed by NBC in exchange for rights to exclusive footage of the students working on its construction and footage of refugees escaping. I've always wanted to see this documentary but I've never found a copy of it. Some of the NBC footage is featured in a recent German documentary 'Der Tunnel - Die Wahre Geschichte' that interviews the builders. While filming this documentary researchers found remains of the tunnel that they dug.

'Escape from East Berlin' only resembles the actual escape in the way that it shows 28 people fleeing from a tunnel: it portrays a family deciding to dig a tunnel from the East Berlin side to the West. 'Der Tunnel' depicts the students, the financing by NBC, and the danger to the tunnel caused by a burst pipe. (The real tunnel builders hoped to continue using the tunnel but the night after 28 people escaped it was flooded by a burst pipe. I've read that some East Berliners hoped to reuse this tunnel during the following winter, after the water froze, but I don't know if this is true. Several people were told about it and when they came to find the tunnel's entrance they were arrested by the East German police.)

I didn't mind that the script of 'Der Tunnel' centres on a swimming champion who becomes the focal point of the tunnel building. Harry's conflicts dramatise the situations that many people found themselves in at the time: agonising over the separation from their families. The other characters also show the difficult situations and choices facing Berliners on both sides of the Wall. The scene in which Fritizi's fiancé dies attempting to cross the Wall is heart wrenching: it reflects the tragedy of Peter Fetcher, who was shot while trying to escape and left to bleed to death. The sex scene between Harry and Fritzi is moving, not gratuitous. And yet certain elements of the film still struck me as sensationalist. One in particular is Fritizi returning to dig the tunnel so soon after her suicide attempt. I couldn't see someone doing hard physical work or being trusted to act as a courier in such demanding circumstances so soon after slashing her wrists. The colonel chasing the refugees and Harry and Fritizi though the Tunnel and stopping at the border, as possible as it might have been according to international protocol in 1962, just rang false. And was it really necessary to have Harry dress up as a border guard and drive a army vehicle back to the border area without being suspected once?

As much as the 1962 film changed the story it showed the desperation and hope of many Berliners without lecturing on the horrors of Communism. Der Tunnel faithfully depicts the period, and the experiences of the people, and yet- I would have liked less of the Hollywooding of the script. It's ironic that Der Tunnel shows Vic encountering the set of 'Tunnel 28' and remarking how he has always wanted to go to Hollywood and be a scriptwriter. The movie shows the overeager hand of an aspiring scriptwriter. A little restraint at the drafting stage would have made 'Der Tunnel' an even more powerful film, and a more fitting tribute to the students who helped East Berliners find their way to freedom from oppression.


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