13. The Letter

It was grey. The sky hadn’t changed colour for three weeks now apart from the darkness and lightness of night and day. Friedrichsstraße U-bahn wasn’t any brighter, the white grime covered lights hardly threw out any light at all. The whole place was dismal. It was the last sight of East Germany many elderly people would get after bidding their families auf wiedersehen before embarking for a new kind of life in the West. When they were no use to the communist system in the east, they were freely allowed to leave East Germany. Many families wanted their elder relatives to have a better life than the one promised but not delivered in East Germany.

Stefan Ziegler signed up to be a policeman straight from school. He went to college for two years and being a good socialist and CDU party member was invited to become a Stasi officer. Karl Heiden on the other hand had a few run-ins with the authorities and was imprisoned and re-educated; indoctrinated with the SED’s mantra. He excelled at sport, was identified as intellectually superior to most of his colleagues and offered a post at Berlin-Lichtenberg where he met Stefan. They trained together at the running track and consequently their tutors identified them as compatible and paired them up.

A train arrived in the station. Nine people got off, thirty four people were allowed on, counted like sheep onto the train, identity cards checked before they were allowed onto the train. Seven elderly couples were destined for the west. Nine were businessmen returning to West Berlin, the rest were people with passes to visit the West, people who were trusted or maybe worked for the SED. Neither Stefan nor Karl knew, their job was to monitor the old folk and the businessmen. Their brief was to look for the faces on the little photographs they’d been issued from Lichtenberg.

Nothing unusual happened so they both turned to go, making brief eye contact with the border security guards as they left. As they walked along Friedrichstraße towards Ziegelstraße where their car was parked, a stray dog ran across the empty street. Two men hurriedly crossed the road as they approached, their pace accelerated a little as they tried to make as much distance as possible between themselves and the two Stasi officers. Most Stasi were easily identifiable, they had a particular way of dressing. They invariably wore leather jackets, hardly anyone else did. They couldn’t afford them. Karl stopped and took out a packet of cigarettes, took two out, lit them and passed one to Stefan then they continued towards the car. Ziegelstraße was a cobbled street. There were no trees, just tiny dim street lamps under which their dark green Wartburg was parked.

Most of their time was spent monitoring and reporting. Very rarely were they sent to apprehend. They got into the car, started it up and drove the short hop to Lichtenberg. They wrote their observations in the report book, signed out and went their separate ways. Stefan got in the car and drove towards his home in Neukölln. Karl had to walk back the way they came to nearby Brunnenviertel.
There was a good band on down at the Drei Hüte Club that night, it was at the end of the street from where Karl lived. He grabbed a bite, a bit of cheese and salami on toast with a tin of warmed spinach then wandered down to the club. His mate Remy was in already. Remy didn’t know, or at least if he did, he didn’t let it be known, that Karl was Stasi. They’d known each other since school and had a drink with each other a few times every week.

Remi worked as a carpenter. He often attended gatherings with people who would play records quite loudly, then discuss the conditions they lived in and how they could be improved. This often led to criticism of the state and some politicians in particular. Karl was aware of this but turned a blind eye.
In the Drei Hüte club, conversation mainly revolved around sports, Union Berlin football club in particular. East Germany’s prowess as an athletics power was beginning to make people sit up and take notice. In 1973 even the Americans recognised the DDR as a country in it’s own right when it joined the League of Nations. There was open discussion in the west that athletes and gymnasts from Eastern Bloc countries were using performance enhancing drugs. People who lived near the West German border were aware of this but nobody believed the western propaganda. Neither did it ever occur to Karl or Remy that this might be the case but then neither of them would ever reach anything other than club level.

East German schools had an extensive sports curriculum where sporting excellence was rewarded. After school, there were sports clubs where the kids who were really interested would be pushed well beyond their limits by coaches who were appointed by the state to search out potential champions. Kindergartens had a lesson called Socialist Living which became more politicised as the kids progressed towards Polytechnic schools. Karl was good at almost everything he did but was very outspoken about the political system from an early age and was taken out of the sytem and re-educated. He could have represented his school, even his club at almost any running discipline.

As Karl left the club, making his way along the dimly lit street, he sensed someone was walking behind him, perhaps a block away, about 50 or 60 metres. He stopped and lit a cigarette. The smoke hung in the air in front of him for two seconds then was whipped away by a sudden cold gust of wind. He inhaled then blew the smoke up into the air simultaneously having a quick glance down the street. A man was leaning against a wall having a throaty cough. Standard Stasi training, thought Karl. He carried on walking and the shadow miraculously recovered from his coughing fit and resumed his following brief.

Stefan arrived home to his apartment to find a letter on the floor in front of his door. He looked around aware that a door was slightly ajar. “Hallo Frau Hagan” he said cheerily. The door quickly closed. He never saw her face but he knew it was her. In the summer months he sometimes dropped off bunches of vegetables in front of her door then he’d knock twice. She’d wait until she heard his door close before she ventured out to collect them. She’d come bustling out like a little round cuckoo from it’s clock then quickly bustle back and quickly lock the door behind her. No thanks, no words, nothing. Her husband was an informer and Stefan used to extract information from him before he just upped and left one day. Nobody had heard a thing about him since. Somebody would know where he was, what he was doing, where he was living and probably which hand he scratched his balls with but nobody told Frau Hagen and she in turn never queried it. She was happy to be rid of him.

The letter was hand written and addressed simply to Herr Stefan Ziegler, Waldersborn 43, Neukölln. There was no stamp or postmarks but it was sealed and this concerned Stefan. He sat on the metal stool in the kitchen and stared at the letter. He decided to make a coffee first then open it. The water seemed to take longer than usual to boil. He let the coffee settle in the pot for a few minutes then slowly and deliberately open the letter. He lit a cigarette and sat back to read it.
An appointment has been made for you to attend a tribunal on the 16th of June in Magdalenenstraße.
That was it. Nothing else. But Stefan knew where that was. Strangely, this was two months away, normally if it was a disciplinary there would be just one day’s notice, if that. All the same, he didn’t want to hang about to find out what it was. They didn’t hand out medals or prizes in Magdalenenstraße, that much was a fact.
Stefan had been looking at his dwindling finances and worsening quality of life for a long time and wondering how he could better himself. He came to the stark conclusion he couldn’t. He’d been to the wall and to the so called death strip and knew it was impossible to escape from Berlin. What if he told Karl that he wanted to try to get to the west? Would he stitch him up? What if he told he he was being watched and it was he who was watching him? He wouldn’t report him then would he?

He had to speak to Karl. He knew Karl hung out with men who were well known for being opinionated. He also knew Karl had been followed for 5 months because it was he who’d been ordered to followed him. If he told him, he was sure Karl would think it was funny because he was a dead giveaway.

He knew that Karl knew he was being followed. He also knew that Karl knew it was he who was following him. More than once he’d been compromised and just carried on until he deliberately lost him and returned back to Lichtenberg with some cock and bull story involving a tram or having to help a woman who had fallen in the street. Karl would sit opposite him whilst he wrote his report out and ask him things like “Catch anyone today?” or “The one that got away, eh?” Maybe Karl was following him! The whole scenario was farcical.