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 a symbol of the Cold War.

Ruled by the Soviet Union, the Deutsche Demokratische Republik saw about three million of its 17 million citizens leave 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 to complete their leap into freedom.

The Baltic Sea was one of the options, with Denmark or Sweden as the final destinations.

The Berlin Wall, which divided East Germany and West Germany, began to be erected on August 13, 1961.

Before and after this iconic moment in world history, between 17 and 189 people lost their lives trying to cross the Baltic Sea.

Auf Wiedersehen

In 1973, Dirk Deckert and Karsten Klünder dared to dream - differently.

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. Next, they bought hoods, gloves, boots, and compasses.

But could they escape the water patrol ships? Was there enough wind to sail away fast?

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

Setting Sail

On November 24, 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.

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 realized his friend had already made it to Denmark, and the fishing boat was now 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."

Klünder and Deckert were the only windsurfers to flee the German Democratic Republic, and they also made the most incredible escape in windsurfing history.

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