One of the most spectacular escapes from communist East Germany, in which two families sailed over the heavily fortified border in a homemade balloon, has been recreated as a thriller for the cinema.
Ballon, by German director Michael Bully Herbig, (English subtitles) tells the true story of the Strelzyks and the Wetzels, who built their balloon in a cellar in Thuringia, a state in the German Democratic Republic, before flying across the border into Bavaria one chilly night in September 1979.
The Radio Times says:
"You wouldn't think a family outing in a hot air balloon would be such a big deal. But when the year is 1979 and you are desperate to flee East Germany and reach the West, the stakes cannot get much higher, as revealed by the sobering opening depicting what happened to those who previously tried to cross the border and failed. Movies (including 1981's Night Crossing with John Hurt) and numerous TV programmes have focused on the sheer daring and bravery behind the East German Balloon Escape - the true story of two families driven to secretly stitch together a huge balloon while hidden from the watchful eye of the Stasi police and their unscrupulous commander (Thomas Kretschmann). Even more exciting is the fact they had already made one failed attempt. German writer/director Michael "Bully" Herbig has not completely abandoned his comedy roots, though, and creates a cosy-looking period story that is both funny and thrilling. As with other celluloid celebrations of real-life derring-do (The Sound of Music, Apollo13), you have a pretty good idea how things will turn out for the Strelzyk and Wetzel families. But how they do and how close the two clans come to death is told in brisk, heart-stopping style."
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