Issue No. 42

August 2014

Tunnel 57

 

In post World War II Germany, Berlin, which was located in communist-held East Germany, was a divided city. West Berlin was free and associated with West Germany while East Berlin was controlled by the communist regime. The Berlin Wall, built by the East Germans in 1961, separated what were then 2 cities. Most other walls, such as the Great Wall in China, the ancient Walls of Babylon, and even our own US/Mexico border wall, were designed to keep people from entering a country. The Berlin Wall was built to keep people from leaving the country.

Joachim Neumann was a young civil engineering student who was born in 1939 in what became East Germany. Immediately after the wall was built, he was able to flee from East Berlin by carrying a falsified Swiss passport. While his dyed blond hair gave him the appearance of a Swiss citizen, he was glad that he did not have to say anything at the border crossing, for that would have given him away.

After arriving in East Berlin, he continued his studies and established contact with other students, including several other young engineers who had fled the East. They formed a pact to help their fellow East Germans escape from the oppression of Communism. For Neumann, the goal was further intensified, as he wanted to help his girlfriend Christa leave the county.

It didn't take long for the crew to decide and take action on how they would help their fellow countrymen find freedom. By April, 1962 they began building their first underground tunnel working night and day in shifts of four or five. Since the tunnel building had to be done next to the border and in view of the East German security towers, crews moved into the houses from which the tunnels were being dug. Excavated soil had to be kept within the building and movement was limited in order to not arouse suspicion. After the crews had progressed 100 feet or so, a nearby pipe broke, flooding the tunnel to such an extent that it had to be abandoned.

Work continued on a number of tunnels over the next several months and years. Some were successful, while others failed. East German police uncovered a tunnel effort in 1963 just as the diggers were getting ready to surface in East Berlin. Neumann's girlfriend Christa was attempting to escape at that time, but instead she was arrested and sentenced to prison for 2 years.

These young engineers were discovering that digging a tunnel to freedom was more challenging than they first thought, but they persisted, intent on leading others to freedom. Joachim Neumann had received a note from his girlfriend that she had been released from prison early and he once again joined a new group of tunnel diggers.

In late 1964 another effort was undertaken to dig a tunnel under the Berlin Wall at a distance of over 300 feet. Again the diggers moved into a building staying there for weeks at a time to minimize their movements. They used the code word "Tokyo" (a reference to the 1964 Olympic Games) as a tool to insure their secrecy of access. Teams of 25 students worked in 12-hour shifts and spent 5 months digging the tunnel. Each day they progressed 3 or 4 feet digging

the tunnel that was only big enough for one person at a time to crawl through. They managed to store an estimated 200 cubic meters of soil, which would be equivalent to filling 4 large 18-wheelers with soil. When the diggers opened their tunnel on the other side of the Wall, they found themselves in their target location, an old abandoned bakery warehouse.

On October 3, 1964, their plan was to move small groups of people every 20 or 30 minutes during the night. As the refugees came to the warehouse, they would use the secret password (Tokyo), gain admission and then to freedom. 57 people succeeded in escaping East Berlin before the police discovered the tunnel. Tunnel 57 was named as a triumph of the search for freedom.

Christa, Joachim's girlfriend was one of the escapees. They married the next year. Once his life settled down, he was able to focus his attention onto his career as a civil engineer, specializing in tunnel projects. He worked on over 60 tunnels over the course of his lifetime including the Chunnel that runs under the English Channel connecting London with Paris. While he had many successes in his life he always ascribed the success of his life to the digging of Tunnel 57.

Regardless of what we do, our work often serves a higher purpose. Research in workplace engagement suggests that employees who believe in what they do and see how their work contributes beyond what seems like the task at hand, enjoy their jobs more, are more successful at what they do, and contribute at a much higher level than people who are less aware of the bigger picture. What's the higher purpose of your work and do you know how your efforts contribute to that success?

 

 

We sit more than we sleep, by a big margin, every day. Nilofer Merchant believes that sitting is our generation's greatest health concern and is equivalent to our parent's smoking cigarettes. She's encouraging us to have walking meetings as a new way of exercising and thinking creativity to solve many of today's problems.

 

 

I'm writing this newsletter from a beautiful Bed and Breakfast I am staying at in Akron, Ohio. I am consulting this this week for Goodyear Tire and Rubber and will be here for a good part of the week. Usually when I travel I, like most business travelers, stay at a nearby hotel. This week I decided to check out the B & B listings and came across The O'Neill House B &B. The house

was built about 90 years ago and is graced with lead windows, oak paneling in nearly every room and a koi pond surrounded by graceful day lilies. Ironically Mr. O'Neill who built the house was the founder of Continental Tire here in Akron. Hope my friends at Goodyear don't find out.