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Escaping East Berlin in a Convertible Sports Car

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin
Heinz Meixner with his fiancee and her mother Frau Thurau in the car, alongside Checkpoint Charlie.

The ice, the cold weather and the rush to make their deliveries on time can often make the roads driven by the Ice Road Truckers an extremely dangerous one. Driving on regular roads carries danger on every turn, but when wheels hit unfamiliar terrain, the risk becomes all that more real.

This week in our weekly celebration of all things BLAZE, we meet someone, who like the Truckers do every day of their lives, drove into danger and laughed in the face of possible calamity.

In 1963, at the height of the Cold War, Heinz Meixner planned a daring escape from East to West Berlin, all in the name of love. While working in the communist east, he’d met Margarete Thurau and they’d fallen in love. But politics and concrete threatened to end the surround the emerging relationship before it had time to truly flourish.

The plan was to emigrate together, along with Margarete’s mum, to Heinz’s native Austria. Here they’d live out their years amidst the snow and the opera houses. But the Berlin Wall sabotaged the plan, and the separation stung them both.

Undeterred, Heinz took matters into his own hands. He fancied his chances against the guards at Checkpoint Charlie, and realised that he just needed to be quicker than them.

The mission was as follows: get a car, a quick car; remove the windshield; let some air out of the tires (the car needed to be low - as low as possible); get Margarete; get her mum; hide them in the back of the car; drive to the checkpoint; when the guard asks you to stop, do the opposite - step on the gas; duck; go under the steel bar and drive you and your girl (and her mum) to freedom.

The daring attempt was set for a Sunday morning in May, and Heinz hoped a dusky glaze would protect them. The vehicle, a small British convertible sports car, was not quite Bond, but not far off. Less of an Aston Martin, more a Austin-Healey Sprite.

In the early morning darkness, Heinz and his loved ones approached Checkpoint Charlie. Passing the first barricade on the East Berlin side he flashed his passport to the guard, who motioned him to pull over. Instead, Heinz stepped on it.

Like a rocket, Heinz and his precious cargo flew into West Berlin travelling so fast that when the brake was used, they skidded 96-feet.

Roped into the early shift, the sleepy American guards could hardly believe it. They greeted them warmly but asked what he was thinking.

“I figured it would take the guards three seconds to draw their weapons once they knew what I was doing, I felt I could make it with about three inches to spare, said Heinz.

“Now we can get married.”