He escaped from one of the world’s most brutal regimes.Then, he decided to tunnel back in.
In the summer of 1962, a young student named Joachim Rudolph dug a tunnel under the Berlin Wall. Waiting on the other side in East Berlin were dozens of men, women, and children—all willing to risk everything to escape.
From the award-winning creator of the acclaimed BBC Radio 4 podcast, Tunnel 29 is the true story of this most remarkable Cold War rescue mission. Drawing on interviews with the survivors and Stasi files, Helena Merriman brilliantly reveals the stranger-than-fiction story of the ingenious group of student-diggers, the glamorous red-haired messenger, the Stasi spy who threatened the whole enterprise, and the love story that became its surprising epilogue.
Tunnel 29 was also the first made-for-TV event of its kind; it was funded by NBC, who wanted to film an escape in real time. Their documentary—which was nearly blocked from airing by the Kennedy administration, which wanted to control the media during the Cold War—revolutionized TV journalism.
Ultimately, Tunnel 29 is a success story about freedom: the valiant citizens risking everything to win it back, and the larger world rooting for them to triumph.
About the Author
Helena Merriman presented and produced Tunnel 29, BBC Radio 4’s podcast about a miraculous escape under the Berlin Wall. She is also the cocreator of British Podcast Award–winning series The Inquiry, and previously worked as a reporter for the BBC in the Middle East. She lives in London, UK.
“A fascinating account of a daring escape from a repressive regime as well as a vivid portrait of life in Berlin in the early days of the wall—and of the international impact of events in that city. Merriman effectively maintains the pace and suspense, giving readers a novelistic narrative with a solid foundation of fact. An entertaining real-life Cold War thriller following a group of students who escaped under ‘the Wall of all walls.’” —Kirkus Reviews
“A gripping, real-life page turner, packed with great characters stuck in impossible situations. This is nonfiction at its very best, and more dramatic and incredible than any fiction I have read for a very long time.” —John O’Farrell, cohost of the We Are History podcast
“Merriman takes us inside not only the tunnel, but also the personal lives of those who dug it. We feel we’re experiencing history as it happens. It’s a gripping story of bravery, determination, and, ultimately, love.” —Lindsey Hilsum, author of In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin
“‘Tunnel 29’, by Helena Merriman, a British journalist and broadcaster, began as a popular podcast, aired by the BBC in 2019 to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the wall. Happily, the written account is no less captivating….Ms Merriman weaves these strands together skilfully, offering enough context to explain her characters’ actions without distracting from their adventures…. Ms Merriman’s well-crafted book does justice to the extraordinary bravery of her characters.”—The Economist
“[A]n audacious and compelling tale, told with narrative tension and novelistic drive, creating a fascinating portrayal of life in Berlin in the early days of the wall.”—Hannah Beckerman, The Observer
“The chapters on the day of the escape are possibly the most suspenseful I have ever read, in fiction as well as nonfiction."—The Scotsman
“Merriman hitches her story to a band of protagonists – digger Joachim Rudolph, wannabe escapees Renate and Wolfdieter Sternheimer, spy Siegfried Uhse – and expertly ups the tempo of perspective changes until the narrative tension is as taut as in a thriller.”—Philip Oltermann, The Guardian
“[Y]ou start to care about these people, to feel the taut urgency of their work and despair at the cruelty of a system that was as deranged as it was effective. Merriman weaves together three separate but deeply connected narratives: the first, a remarkable feat of subterranean construction by some very brave men; the second, the omnipresent stranglehold of the not-secret-at-all police state on the entire population; and the third, a groundbreaking, award-winning NBC documentary that aired in December 1962 — one of the first reality shows in television history.”—The Washington Post
“[A]bsolutely compelling, written in the style of a novelist…chilling… Tunnel 29 is a riveting story about what happens when people lose their freedom.”—New York Journal of Books