A thrilling Cold War narrative of two harrowing attempts to rescue East Germans by tunneling beneath the Berlin Wall, the US television networks who financed and filmed them, and the Kennedy administration’s attempt to suppress both films
In the summer of 1962, one year after the rise of the Berlin Wall, a group of young West Germans came up with a plan. They would risk prison, Stasi torture, even death to liberate friends, lovers, and strangers in East Berlin by digging tunnels under the Wall. Among the conspirators were a legendary cyclist, an American student from Stanford, and an engineer who would later help build the tunnel under the English Channel.
Then two US television networks, NBC and CBS, heard about the secret projects and raced to be first to document them from the inside. The networks funded two separate tunnels in return for exclusive rights to film the escapes, planning spectacular primetime specials. In response, President John F. Kennedy and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, wary of anything that might raise tensions and force a military confrontation with the Soviets, maneuvered to quash both documentaries.
As Greg Mitchell’s riveting narrative unfolds week by week, sometimes hour by hour, we meet extraordinary characters: the tunneler who had already served four years in the East German gulag; the Stasi informer who betrays the “CBS tunnel”; the young East Berliner who escapes with her baby, then marries one of the tunnelers. Capturing the hopes and fears of everyday Berliners, the chilling reach of the Stasi secret police, US networks prepared to “pay for play” yet willing to cave to official pressure, and a White House and State Department eager to suppress historic coverage, The Tunnels is “breaking history,” a propulsive listen whose themes still reverberate. Download and start listening now!