1963 was a bad year to fall in love with a girl from the German Democratic Republic – especially if you lived in the Federal Republic of Germany. The Berlin Wall had been erected two years earlier to stem the tide of East Germans seeking to cross the border that divided Berlin between the East and West. Heinz Meixner cared little for international politics but the barrier represented by Checkpoint Charlie was much more personal for him. But never underestimate a young man in love with access to an Austin-Healey Sprite with the guts to come up with a plan.
The young West German lathe operator was engaged to a girl from the other side of the tracks (actually – a wall) and his attempts at getting official sanction for his fiancee, Margrete Thurau, to emigrate had met with failure. So like any enterprising youth in love he set about devising a plan to do unofficially what he had failed to do through more legal channels. He rented an Austin-Healey Sprite and crossed over into the east on a tourist pass. Heading to his betrothed’s home he hid her in the area behind the seats and then directed his future mother-in-law into the trunk.
So it was that just after midnight on May 5, 1963, Meixner headed back towards the Wall behind the wheel of the rented Sprite with the love of his life and her mother ensconced under the tonneau and in the boot. The top was down and the windscreen had been removed and he was – needless to say – scared as hell. After showing his passport to the AK-47 brandishing armed guards he was waved over to the Customs inspection area. Rather than stopping at the shed as directed he stabbed at the throttle and proceeded to run the gymkhana of his life. Steering around the various cones, concrete barriers and alarmed guards that were about to shoot him, he maneuvered the Sprite past the these obstacles and at the last minute ducked his head as he drove under the barrier arm that represented freedom in the west.
A few months later, emboldened by Meixner’s successful attempt, another young German in love, this one named Norbert Konrad (who was born in Germany but held an Argentine passport) decided to try again. Norbert was also in love with an East German girl (this was presumably in the period before young fräuleins in the DDR became better known for their weight lifting acumen and genetic ambiguity) and he had also failed to get her out by official means.
In order to spirit out Helga Werner he had decided to do the exact same thing (including renting the same Sprite from the same rental car agency) hoping that the Stasi had not yet figured out that Sprites have more interior space than appears from the outside. Helga was stuffed into the trunk and he drove towards Checkpoint Charlie. He nearly panicked when he was stopped by a policeman (who only wanted to point out a loose exhaust pipe) but he kept his cool as he got out to fix it before heading again towards the border.
The Border Guards checked his passport carefully and then directed him to customs. Like Heinz, he sped away and under the barrier to freedom and life with Helga. They were married just a few weeks later.
Alas, the Stasi wisened up and added steel bars under the barrier arm to prevent further sports car defections, but at least its heartening to know that the Sprite struck two mighty blows for true love and freedom in those halcyon days of the Cold War.
By Johnny Oversteer