Escaping from East Germany has taxed the ingenuity of many people. Some have crashed their way through the Berlin Wall, others have been smuggled out in car trunks or secret compartments, while still others have jumped from excursion steamers, hoping to reach the nearest friendly shore or ship. In 1968, 28-year-old Bernd B‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áttger, a former engineering student from Dresden, invented one of the most unusual getaway devices—a 22-pound, torpedo-shaped scooter designed to pull a man along just under or on the surface of the water. And, with luck, out of sight of the East German border patrol.
At first, B‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áttger proved low on luck. During a trial run in the Baltic Sea, he was picked up by the patrol and held in custody for 11 months. His scooter was confiscated. When he was finally released, B‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áttger returned to his lab and wasted no time in building another. A year later, the wet suit-clad inventor again slipped into the chilly waters of the Baltic. Traveling in darkness and using the stars to guide him, B‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áttger and his scooter took five hours to reach the safety of the Danish lightship Gedser, which rode at anchor some 15 miles from where he had begun his journey.
Today B‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áttger's scooter is for sale to anyone seeking more frivolous forms of adventure. After seven years of research and refinement, the invention has been trimmed to an easily maneuverable 14.3 pounds, including a submersible gasoline engine that propels the scooter through the water at speeds up to five miles per hour. The AquaScooter, as B‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áttger's machine is now called, sells for less than $300 and can be used for everything from snorkeling to powering a 17-foot sailboat (with an optional boat bracket). Last year some 70 Japanese enthusiasts even raced their AquaScooters over a 5.4-mile, open-sea course. It took the winner just over an hour.
The red, yellow and blue plastic AquaScooter, which looks like a small canister vacuum cleaner, is only 20.5 inches long and has its own carrying case. It is easily operated by anyone capable of running a lawnmower. Body English steers the scooter through the water, and if it should slip from the operator's hands, the floating craft will slowly run in circles until retrieved.
May 20, 1979
Altogether, it's a great escape vehicle for anyone who loves the water—be it lake, sea or backyard pool. For more details write: AquaScooter, Inc., 43 Commerce Street, Springfield, N.J. 07081.