Hodder & Stoughton has acquired a book based on Tunnel 29, a podcast about a student who escaped Communist East Germany only to tunnel back in under the Berlin Wall to help other refugees.
Since launching in November as part of BBC Radio 4’s "Intrigue" series, the 10-episode podcast has already racked up 3.5 million downloads. It was reported and narrated by Helena Merriman and tells the true story of Joachim Rudolph, who, as a 22-year-old engineering student in the early 1960s, made it to West Berlin, and then dug a tunnel back into East Germany, beneath the Berlin Wall, to help others escape the German Democratic Republic.
According to Hodder, the book will be written by Merriman and will enlarge on the podcast, using thousands of pages of Stasi documents and hundreds of hours of interviews with surviving participants. It will tell the full story of the tunnel, including that of the group of friends who built it, the Stasi agent who betrayed it and the American news network which funded it.
It will publish in August 2021 after Hodder & Stoughton non-fiction publisher Rupert Lancaster pre-empted the book, acquiring world rights including translation, serial and audio from Luigi Bonomi of LBA acting on behalf of BBC Radio 4, with Merriman represented by Karolina Sutton at Curtis Brown.
While the podcast was timed to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the book's publication will coincide with the 60th anniversary of its construction.
Merriman said: "This story is not just for Cold War obsessives. It’s a story for our times: a time when people all over the world make perilous journeys in search of freedom and governments go to extreme lengths to control their borders. In making the podcast we learned so much about the psychological effects of living behind a wall, and how people in the East defied the Stasi by getting information from the outside world (reminiscent of people in China today). And we find out about the GDR’s mass of informants; a higher proportion than most secret police networks in history. I’m very excited about writing the Tunnel 29 book – there’s so much more extraordinary material that helps tell this incredible story."
Lancaster said: "As soon as I started to listen to the podcast I thought there must be a book in this. The quality of the research, the way Helena lets the people involved tell their stories, the suspense – all ingredients for what I think will be an enthralling work of considerable historical significance."