Few movies grip you with terror from the first few scenes and hold you there for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Balloon, directed by Michael Herbig and written by Kit Hopkins, Thilo Röscheisen and Michael Herbig, was one of the best films I have ever seen. The fear for the lives of the Strelzyk family was relentless as they negotiated the most daring and stunning escapes from East Germany to West Germany between 1979 and 1981.

The film was showing as part of the German Film Festival. It is always an amazing festival. Here is the synopsis:

Known for Germany’s all-time biggest grossing movies Manitou’s Shoe (2001) and Dreamship Surprise (2004), comedy personality Michael “Bully” Herbig now makes his directing foray into thrillers, recreating a gripping historical event.

1979, East Germany at the height of the Cold War. Günter Wetzel (David Kross, The Reader), a bricklayer, and his friend Peter Strelzyk (Friedrich Mücke), an electrician, can no longer bear the oppressive regime. The two men and their wives resolve to undertake a mission to secretly build a hot air balloon from scratch that will carry them and their families over the border fence to freedom. Over the course of the next 18 months they sew 1,000 square metres of cloth and gather countless weather reports from West German radio with the Stasi (State Police) hot on their heels. A nerve-racking battle against the clock begins…

We were stunned by the fact that so many resources and so many people would get involved in the hunt and capture of one or two families who wished to escape the GDR regime. It really was the most exciting escape story I have ever seen!

Quite enough excitement for one night! I have not been so frightened for such an extended period for a long time. Absolutely amazing though. Just incredible film making. True to the period of East Germany in 1979, with exquisite detail of the historical characters and landscapes.

It is certainly not like modern day society where many safe countries are not at all welcoming to people who are fleeing terror and persecution. We lock people up on an island who dared to make the journey by boat. And yet West Germany in 1979 was much more humane – at least for the ones who survived.