Dirk Deckert and Karsten Klünder: goodbye East Germany | Photo: Karsten Klünder

From 1949 to 1990, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) - also known as East Germany - was the symbol of the Cold War. Ruled by the Soviet Union, the Deutsche Demokratische Republik saw about three million of the country's 17 million citizens leaving the country in search of freedom and a better life.

Leaving East Germany meant, in most cases, escaping East Germany. The communist regime didn't allow people to leave the country, except if they were members of minority ethnic groups returning to their homelands, or if their citizens were to reunite with their families.

As a result, East Germans had to be creative and effective in order to complete their leap into freedom. The Baltic Sea was one of the options, with Denmark or Sweden as final destinations.

The Berlin Wall, which divided East Germany and West Germany, began to be erected on the 13th August, 1961. Before and after this iconic moment in world history, between 17 and 189 people lost their lives trying to cross the Baltic Sea.

In 1973, Dirk Deckert and Karsten Klünder dared to dream. Although you could buy windsurf boards in East Germany, they were too heavy and unsuitable for long distances.

The duo decided to build their own gear with the guiding help of a West German sailing magazine. Klünder's brother was a sail manufacturer, so the propulsion problem was also solved. They bought hoods, gloves, boots, and compasses.

East Germany, 1986: homemade boards and sails | Photo: Karsten Klünder

But could they escape the water patrol ships? Was there enough wind to sail away fast? On the 24th November 1986, Dirk and Karsten crossed the border and hit the water. It was make or break.

Shortly after setting off, Dirk Deckert damaged his wetsuit and realized he had to return to East Germany. He knew he would die in the freezing waters without skin protection. His friend Klünder didn't know what was happening with Dirk and kept sailing in 22-to-33 knots of wind, until reaching the Danish shore.

In the following night, Dirk set sail with a new compass and a repaired wetsuit. After traveling for six hours in the dark and cold Baltic Sea, the windsurfer spotted a Danish fishing boat. "Are you Dirk?" the fisherman asked. The young adventurer quickly understood his friend had also made it to Denmark. The boat was looking for him.

Dirk Deckert and Karsten Klünder had successfully escaped East Germany by completing a windsurf cross between their country and Denmark. Each one sailed 70 kilometers to freedom, between Hiddensee and the island of Møn.

Years later, Deckert revealed that "if I had known that the wall would fall three years later, I would have stayed. Definitely."

They were the only windsurfers to flee the German Democratic Republic and they also pulled the greatest escape ever in the history of windsurfing.