FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM: THE WETZEL FAMILY S DARING ESCAPE FROM EAST GERMANY, by Kristen Fulton and Torben Kuhlmann, Chronicle Books, March 3, 2020, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 5-8)
In 1982, Night Crossing, a movie about two families who use a hot air balloon to escape from East Germany, was released. I remember watching it on TV as a child. The movie was based on a true story that is now coming to life in picture book form. Flight for Freedom, written by Kristen Fulton and illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann, tells the story from a child’s point of view.
Following World War II, Germany was divided into two sides — east and west. A nearly 900-mile concrete wall separated them. East Germany came under the socialist rule of the Soviets. West Germany became a democracy with a capitalist economic system. The differences were stark. The west side developed much like Great Britain or the United states. Those who lived on the east side faced stark restrictions.
When Peter Wetzel was a child, he knew he lived on the wrong side of Germany. His parents knew it, too. But they had a plan — under the cover of night, they were going to fly to East Germany in a hot air balloon. Peter’s parents planned with their best friends, the Strelzyks.
Every night for more than a year, Peter would watch and listen as his parents prepared. Just past midnight on Sept. 16, 1979, Peter and his family left their home for a huge field surrounded by trees. There, the two families piled into their homemade balloon and set off for freedom in West Germany.
On their third attempt, the Wetzel and Strelzyk families did successfully cross over to free Germany. When writing Flight for Freedom, author Kristen Fulton not only exchanged several emails with Peter’s father, Gunter Wetzel, but met with him face-to-face as well. She was able to retrace the Wetzel’s escape. This familiarity with the subject matter rings true throughout Flight for Freedom.
Flight for Freedom is written for 5- to 8-year-olds, and the text reflects that. And telling the story from Peter’s viewpoint adds to the tension and immediacy. Torben Kuhlmann’s illustrations further enhance the story. Also included are detailed maps of the Wetzel family’s escape route (front and back inside covers), diagrams of their hot air balloon, further information on prior escape attempts, and information about the Cold War and the Berlin Wall.
© 2020, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, all books — digital and physical — have been provided for free by publishers in exchange for honest and unbiased reviews. All thoughts and opinions are those of the reviewer.