What is Your Freedom Balloon Made of?

Impossible feats are the sum of small but difficult actions. I’ve been told that when life gives you lemons you make lemonade. I hate lemonade, but when life gave 2 families a wagon of lemons they built a giant balloon in their backyard. (Based on a True Story).

Gunter Wetzel was the typical guy with a wife and 2 children. His situation was anything than typical however. In 1978, he was living in Pößneck, a village in Germany which was separated from the rest of Germany by a massive wall. The wall was the result of the world still coming to terms with the demise of a small mustached dictator named Adolf Hitler. So the Soviets, still reeling from the calamity, created a thick wall lined with barbed wire, mines, & precision marksmen. Many people, unhappy under Soviet rule, died while attempting to break for freedom. As our story was beginning a teenager had hijacked a bulldozer to ram the wall. While he was caught in a slew of barbed wire, the solders shot him dead.

The families of Gunter Wetzel & Peter Stelzyk, knew the teen personally, he was like family…He died without being able to experience the simple joys life had to offer. All he ever knew was the war & this wall. Gunter looked at his children: they deserved better than what circumstance had dealt them. He called his good friend Peter who had some technical aptitude, “Peter…we have to talk.” Gunter was resolute to break out of communist East Germany.


“Whoever said life is like box of chocolates…never bothered to read the inside of the package.”
– Me


Gunter & Peter had to design the balloon from an old balloon photograph. Acquiring materials was next. It would be tight; they’d need to budget for nearly 19,000 sq ft of cloth. Then came the challenge of construction. The wives would sew the freedom balloon, but what of the basket? Tradition would need to be scrapped for simplicity. They developed a plan using wood and rope guard rails. If you look at the picture below on the right side, it looks like a flipped over table with rope guard rails. Imagine putting your kid into that!


The families of Gunter Wetzel & Peter Strelzyk



“Failure is a condiment that gives life it’s flavoring.”
– Truman Capote


It is 5 months later, and Gunter’s wife was sick with stress and tired of sewing. Their second attempt at ballooning out of Germany had failed. To make things worse, they hadn’t had a warm meal in months either. They had dismantled their wood powered cook stove in half for the burner section of the balloon. Her family were reduced to sandwiches & fruit. The whole situation was baloney.

Gunter was undeterred and had a brilliant plan for another attempt; do the majority of the sewing for his wife, & cut apart his motorcycle for parts. He looked fondly at the old beast, chrome & black, but its destruction could save his family. “For freedom,” he thought. It was an easy decision to keep the essentials and dismantle the rest. Gunter theorized that his sawing & crude welds would make his motorcycle into a giant fan.

They spent every dollar was spent on the essentials, then whatever else was budgeted for fabric. The husbands purchased 19,000 sq ft of canvas each day and shop at different stores across the country in fear that they would get caught. Getting caught meant they’d either be imprisoned for life or shot. In 1979 communist Germany, the job prospects were not good for single moms

Their stress levels were at an all time high. Apparently, their identities were exposed when they paid for one large order with a cheque. In less than a week the authorities were already asking for their whereabouts. A shopkeeper, who was old friends with the Wetzel family, alerted them to this. When the news hit Gunter’s ears he quietly switched his sewing speed from hurried to panicked frenzy.


“If you fall, I’ll always be there.”  The Floor


They hurriedly packed and sped away to their secret secluded area in the thick forest. Hours later Gunter listened to the night sounds for any abnormalities. When it seemed safe  he signaled his family to continue. Unpacking their precious cargo, 19,000 sq ft of sewn fabric, and a contraption that represented the family’s last stand against the regime, the 2 intrepid families started the slow assembly process for flight. The night sky was clear with a light breeze. The flight for freedom was now or never.

The balloon started to fill & their spirits started to lift. In just over 10 minutes the balloon was nearly full. Gunter’s wife squealed with delight as the breeze picked up. They carefully entered the “basket” when the wind began to force it from their grasp! The balloon was tipping.


Whoever said, ‘It’s not whether you win or lose that counts,’ probably lost.  Martina Navratilova


Imagine what they must have felt at that moment. Their freedom so close yet becoming wrecked by nature testing the sturdiness of their homemade contraption. The two families came together at that moment. Each member began tugging against the ropes to tame balloon against the wind. It was like life was giving lemons at that moment, and it was serving it by the truck load…

And then it was over. At 2:32 am on September 16th, 1979 the families of Peter Strelzyk & Gunter Weztel sadly said their silent good-byes as they cut the ropes that tethered their balloon & flew to freedom. They watched as they floated away from the village where their children were born. Years & months had passed for this moment. Each had made their small sacrifice by duty, by income, & by diet. Gone, they hoped, were the days of cheap deli meat sandwiches & pickled cabbage. The journey of many small actions had led to one big miracle – they cleared the wall & entered a new life.

The Moral of the Story

Congratulations for reading this far. This was your test. Most people will quit paying attention after a few sentences but you stayed till the end. The moral is that if you want something like debt freedom you & your family have to make small sacrifices. In some cases you’ll need to give up things that you love like a motorcycle or vehicle. They had to change their diet and get rid of their stove! They also stopped associating with people who would hinder their cause. (If you’re in debt then it’s those people who don’t respect money) Below are some tips which I hope will be useful on building your own Debt Freedom Balloon.

If you have a big project, break it down into smaller pieces with whatever information you can find. Do a credit report with both agencies Transunion & Equifax (cancel the monthly subscription thing if you don’t want to pay it)

Write down your findings. In your case it’s likely your budget & number of lenders. Who are they and how much do you owe? What do you own? Car, house?

For an evaluation of your home use the last property assessment from your taxes, go online & find what other homes in your neighborhood are priced at by using BC Assessment

For an evaluation of your car I recommend Canadian Black Book. It lists your car for what a dealership would pay for it.

Did you ever lose your vehicle from an accident or from repossession with a loan still on it? A debt collector will try to collect on the negative balance but you don’t legally owe them anything! Seize or Sue Laws only apply to BC & a couple of other provinces.

If you’re being looking at cutting your debt to 50%+ without going into bankruptcy with a minimal effect on your long term score, click here.

Good Luck!


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