Escape to West Germany via Hungary, August/September 1989: At Nickelsdorf border crossing [40/62]



September 11 1989
Austria, Nickelsdorf border crossing
Created By: Elke Schmitz

License: Creative Commons License


border checkpoint, car, child, family, group of people


camp, escape


Order of Malta Ambulance Corps


Austria, Hungary

Text in image

Zollamt Nickelsdorf


Other items in this set


"Lake Balaton - the start of our escape

In order to camouflage our plans to leave the country, we went on a trip to Lake Balaton in August 1989. It was organised by the GDR youth travel agency, Jugendtourist. At that point, we were very much planning on escaping via the Green Line towards Austria.

But late in the evening on 22 August 1989, Hungarian border guards arrested us while trying to escape. Given our evident unfamiliarity with the area, we were apprehended for heading straight for a border station. Someone arranged for an interpreter, a report was written and we were released and escorted back out of the border area by an army jeep.

The photos taken the next day perhaps convey some of the void and helplessness we felt in the days that followed.

Budapest and Csillebérc

We decided to go to Budapest after our escape attempt. Our neighbours at the campsite didn't get wind of what had happened - and nor should they have done. Officially, we only wanted to go and visit friends for the weekend. On Monday, 28 August 1989 we approached the representative of the German Embassy in Zugliget and applied for entry as well as a German passport. The square around the church in Zugliget was already packed by that point. We arrived in Csillebérc where the second Order of Malta relief service encampment had just been set up.

What our photos don't show is that it was unusually cold in Budapest that August. The youth holiday camp was situated at about 400 metres altitude in the Budaer Mountains and it rained almost non-stop on the first day. The atmosphere of the place was in keeping with the weather.

We often travelled down to Budapest to while away the waiting time and to warm ourselves up a little. We spent the odd sunny afternoon on the Fisherman's Bastion. We rather look like tourists on the photos, not escapees. On 30 August, the day we got our passports, we went to an amusement park on Margaret Island. Everyone was in somewhat better spirits!

Unfortunately, there aren't any pictures of a wall at the main meeting place which was covered in layers upon layers of notes. I never found the courage to photograph the food bank, the info centre or the Order of Malta tents. A fear of Stasi spies made most people hysterical when they saw a camera pointed in their direction.

Departure, 11 September 1989

What we'd been waiting for, for 27 years, suddenly happened very quickly. We took down our tents and by the time we left the encampment around midday, most people had already left. We reached the Nickelsdorf border crossing in Austria at 4 o'clock. We drove through - and that was it.


After our first night in the 'West', we had breakfast between our cars in the Laxenburg manor car park. We couldn't afford a pitch on the campsite. We did, however, encounter much sympathy and great interest. When sightseeing in Vienna, we felt curious but also a little insecure. We met some friendly people and were allowed to spend one more night on the grounds of a youth centre before driving on to the reception camp in Passau."

Elke Schmitz

Original Caption

"4pm at Nickelsdorf border crossing in Austria. What we had spent 27 years waiting for was suddenly all over so quickly. You drive through - and that's it."