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I tried that, however the door panel is impossible to remove without breaking when the door is closed, and a new door panel would be that much anyway....I would love to make this a DIY project if at all possible though

DO NOT RIP OFF THE INTERIOR DOOR PANEL. I have the same issue and read somewhere (don't recall where I read it) once you get the panel off, you can slide it towards the rear of the car and that should get you just enough room to do what you have to do to solve the problem. Make sure the lock or the stay closed thingy it's wire is connected, pull on the cable that should do the trick.
DO NOT
 

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The panel that is upholstered where your elbow sits can be removed followed by the removal of the airbag that is right under that panel generally speaking you will damage the damaged tabs that hold this panel in place but it can be put back with a little ingenuity. Opening the door can be accomplished with a little tool made out of wire with a hockey stick on end. This tool can be placed in a slot at the bottom of the locking mechanism that you can feel through the hole that you have created by removing the airbag unit. Removing the airbag unit can be a dicey Thang. I disconnected the battery prior to removing it. I made a YouTube video demonstrating the use of this homemade small tool to open the door latch mechanism.
 

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I posted this on youtube under the name marshoemaker. E39 door wont open from inside or outside. I fought with my door latch for hours before I figured this out. There is no way to get the inner door facing off with the door closed.
 

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OK I have a 2008 BMW 528i and I had the same problem were the drivers side door would not open either inside or outside. what I did was take the door lock plug off and pulled the top of the panel which is held on by clips off I had about 1 inch clearance to see inside the door. Thank God I knew where the interior door handle mechanism cable connected to the metal clip that opens the door. You can see that by popping off the panel on the passenger door to see how it all connects. Make sure you disconnect the negative terminal on the battery before you do this or you may screw up your airbag. I took a metal BBQ skewer bout 20 inches long and bent the tip(1/4 inch long) 90 degrees. The clip is just below the end of the door lock where there is a screw head right below so you have to go past the screw head and there is a cavity that holds the metal clip, turn the skewer 90 degrees to get into the cavity and push down. This opened the door for me but it took about 30 tries to get it to catch the clip. Good luck!
 
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