The Berlin Wall went up quickly, overnight on 13 August 1961. At first it was mostly barbed wire with some concrete, and for the first several months it remained relatively porous, easy to slip through at various points. But as the barrier was fortified, those who wanted to escape to the West had a more difficult time doing it.
Though Berlin was a divided city inside a divided country, travel between the sectors had been relatively free until that August. That freedom, however, had allowed thousands of East Berliners to permanently leave for the western sector, and many of them were skilled professionals. Not only was the cold war heating up, but the space race and technology competition were ramping up, too, and the eastern bloc couldn't afford to keep losing its best and brightest.
Some of those best and brightest went to work on tunneling to get their families and friends and even paying "passengers" under the Wall.
One of the most fascinating features of this book is that Mitchell had so much access to first-hand source information. As he writes in the prefatory "Note to Readers,"
It incorporates no invented dialogue. Re-created scenes are not imagined but based in most cases on accounts of two or more participants. Unless otherwise attributed, anything between quotation marks is either actual dialogue (as recalled by a witness, often in an interview with the author) or from a memoir or other book, letter, oral history, court record, interrogation, White House transcript, or other document cited in the Notes. . . . All of the names are real. . . . [N]early all of the central events and episodes in this narrative (and surely the most exciting sections) are based on lengthy original interviews with nearly all of the key tunnelers, and several of the couriers and escapees. . . .
Yes, I'm only 10% in, but I already highly, highly recommend this book as a testament to the indomitable human spirit. Goodness knows we need it these days!