German of the Week: 19-year-old geopolitical game-changer Mathias Rust and his 1987 flight to the Kremlin

Rust's plane, now in the German Museum of Technology, Berlin. picturecnb.blogspot.de / Wikimedia

Rust's plane, now in the German Museum of Technology, Berlin. picturecnb.blogspot.de / Wikimedia

Our German of the week this episode hails from the small town of Wedel in the North-West of Germany. He is not known for something that he did this week, but what he did this week 28 years ago. His name is Mathias Rust and during the height of the cold war when the East and West of Germany were separated, he flew, starting from Hamburg in the west of Germany all the way to Moscow Russia, and landed in the middle of the street nearly in front of the Kremlin itself.

Udo Grimberg / Wikimedia

Udo Grimberg / Wikimedia

He was 19 years old when he came up with a plan for a “peace mission”. Being passionate about politics and watching television in Hamburg, Rust saw a meeting between the United States and the Soviet Union end in yet another stalemate. He knew right then that he would show the world that the people wanted to improve relations between nations.

Having already earned his pilot's licence previously, Mathias Rust decided he was going to fly to Russia in order to create an imaginary bridge to the East. He set off from Hamburg in a small single engine plane on May 13, 1987. Flying a straight path would not have been possible so Rust first flew a group islands belonging to Denmark, then to Iceland, Norway, and stopped in Finland.

He spent a few days in Finland convincing himself that he was making the right decision. It was a very dangerous plan. He would fly through the Soviet Air Defense Shield and had a high chance of being shot out of the air.

At the last minute, before heading back home, Rust turned his little plane toward Moscow. After entering into Soviet airspace, he was soon spotted by a Soviet fighter jet. What might have saved his life was a misunderstanding by the Soviet pilots, they believed that Rust’s plane was allowed to be there.

He made it to Moscow without another incident on May 28th and ended up landing his plane on a bridge next to the Kremlin as Red Square was too full of people to land safely.

After landing, he was able to speak to some of the civilians who approached the plane about his peace mission but was soon arrested by Soviet police. He was sentenced for 4 years in a labor camp and served just over a year before being released as a gesture of goodwill.

Mathias Rust’s adventure was more than just a talking point for peace, it brought about real changes. Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, used this incident to push across strong military reforms in the country.