The Tunnel

January 21, 2001 0 By Fans
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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

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


Wolf-Dietrich Sprenger

Fotograf Grüner

Florian Panzner


Sarah Kubel

Ina Lohmann

Ruth Glöss

Mutter Fritzi

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


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

Gross: $10,890
(12 June 2005)

Technical Specs


(2 parts)
(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

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.