14. Berlin

It was a black joke in the country that the only absolutely foolproof way to escape from East Germany, was in a coffin. Erich Honecker actively discouraged escape attempts. He ordered the wall to be built. His predecessor Walter Ulbrecht went on record as sayingNo one has any intention of building a wall”. During his tenure as General Secretary of the SED however, he increased border security to the point where his own people were imprisoned. East Germans could travel to Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria but getting out of these countries to the west was as difficult as getting out of East Germany. Honecker just took it a step further. Both Karl and Stefan had travelled to Eastern bloc countries for holidays. Both of them had harboured thoughts of escape privately but nobody in their right mind would confide in another about escaping. But tomorrow would be different.

The next day in the office at Lichtenberg, Stefan was worried about the letter but tried not to show it as he sorted the case files for the “Beanpole” job. He scraped a desk noisily across the tiles and lined it up alongside another one to make one long one then started to lay the files out neatly on the desks in week order as usual. Lehmann marched past the office as usual then almost as an after thought stopped, turned back, slid the window aside and stooped down just low enough to poke his ample head through the hatch and simply said “Not today”. “Shit” thought Stefan and began to collect all the papers up again and rearrange the desks again, deliberately noisier than earlier.

Dieter Lehmann was a huge man who wore his grey trousers half way up his chest. He had a totally bald head and a permanently red face. His sarcastic demeanour made him very difficult to read, Stefan never knew when he was serious or not. Lehmann had a doglike devotion towards the General Secretary whose photo was in a plain wooden frame above his head at one end of the office. He polished the glass every day with water and vinegar. Stefan never knew who to look at or ignore the most, Lehmann or Honecker. He hated being called into his boss’s office for the weekly brief, he was intimidated by both the bald head of Lehmann and the thin lips of Honecker.

Gunter’s Brauhaus in Prenzlauer Berg was a favourite haunt of Stefan and Karl’s. Squeezed between a bread shop and a boutique, it was invariably quiet but served excellent food. The Gebratene Blutwurst auf Kartoffelpüree mit Apfelmus und Röstzwiebeln was the stuff of legends. It was one of the oldest bars in Berlin, built along with the surrounding shops before the turn of the 20th century. The area survived the worst of the destruction during the Battle of Berlin but had received little love and attention since those times. There were little snugs at the back where young couples could have a bit of privacy. It was probably bugged, the area was well known for counterculturists and bohemians who wanted more say in their daily life, people whom the Stasi took a keen interest in. Karl deliberately chose a table in the middle of the room.

They ordered the black pudding and mashed potatoes and a beer each.
“This is nothing to do with the Beanpole case is it?” remarked Karl casually.
“No” whispered Stefan “Something urgent has come up”.
Stefan decided to tell Karl about the letter. He read it out quietly and quickly put it back into his coat pocket.
“Any idea what it’s all about?” Karl asked.
“Birgit” replied Stefan “I’m not going, I mean, to the tribunal”.
“What’s Bergit done now? They’ll string you up if you don’t attend”.
“I’m not going, I’m getting out, I’m….well, that’s it, I’ve told you now.
Birgit was a friend of Stefan’s who had a list of activities alongside her name which the state didn’t approve of.
Karl never flinched. “So, why are you in trouble because Bergit is in trouble?”
“Theft. Hey didn’t you hear me, I said I’m…” his voice tailed off “I said I’m getting out” his voice lowered to almost a whisper.

Karl turned his head away from him, deliberately looking towards the windows, then he turned, lowered his head so he had to look up at his face then said almost inaudibly “I was followed last night in Friedrichshain”. There were a few seconds silence. Stefan looked up at Karl but he’d put his hands over his eyes and lowered his head. He carried on looking at the top of Karl’s head, he noticed he’d got a bald patch developing. Karl raised his head slowly, firstly making eye contact with Gunter behind the bar then refocusing on Stefan he said “There’s something else…”.

“I saw him, he probably knew I’d seen him but he kept following me for a while, then I slipped into the VolksPark and hid behind the changing hut. I could hear him walking nearby then all of a sudden he came round the corner and we were face to face. It was Schneider.”

Stefan’s face changed from one of bewilderment to one of horror. Schneider was hard line, always carried a job through.
“I hit him and he fell” Karl said in a matter of fact way.
“Noooo…” cooed Stefan.
“Don’t interrupt mate, listen, I knew I had to get rid of him. It had to be done. He fell onto the edge of the lake so I kicked him then picked up a rock and hit him with it then rolled him into the lake and threw the rock in after him”.
“What, fucking what, Jesus Christ?” Stefan hissed. “You killed him? Where is he now?”
“Sshhh, keep your voice down. It’s alright, he’s at the bottom of the lake. He visited my mother last week, made a few threats, she’s scared to death to go out now. I think he’s been following me for a few weeks as well.” replied Karl calmly. Stefan blushed a bit. He looked down to the floor and casually toe poked a cigarette end under the table. “I know you were as well but you were shit at it so it didn’t bother me” laughed Karl under his breath.

The silence was broken. “Yeah, that was Lehmann’s idea, he thinks we’re getting too close” said Stefan trying to diffuse the situation. He needn’t have bothered, Karl had other things, infinitely more important things on his mind now.

Did anyone see…I mean, are you sure you were alone, just you and him? Did he float to the top?” asked Stefan, no stranger to death himself having had to identify a man he’d been following for a few months, who had drowned trying to cross the Spree only two weeks since. The staring eyes, the gaping mouth and grey shrunken features were still fresh in his mind.
“No, I waited fifteen minutes, no sign of him, he sank”, said Karl in an innocent way.
“But he’ll float to the top in a day or two, you do know that don’t you…..that was a joke wasn’t it?” Stefan said as an afterthought.
“Yes, it was, but I’m hoping to be far away from here by then” said Karl.
“What do you mean by that?” Stefan took a second or two to realise what Karl had said, his puzzled look was almost cartoon like.
“I don’t know but I’ve got to get away quick, don’t know where to, West Berlin would be good” laughed Karl, knowing full well he was talking rubbish.

Stefan hardly heard him say that, he was thinking solely about saving his own skin. “Shit? I mean shit, now you’ve told me this, they’ll haul me in because I’m your partner, they’ll ask me all sorts of questions and I’ll break, I know I will, some of the investigators are bastards.”
“Some of them?” laughed Karl nervously “All of them mate, every one of them would strip their granny naked and throw her in a cell if they were told to”. “And beat the shit out of her” he added as an afterthought. “Anyway, I thought you just said you are getting out as well?”

Stefan suddenly regained a bit of his composure and realised what was happening.
“West Berlin….” he stuttered “You just said West Berlin, you have contacts?”
“Well, I have contacts but they are unreliable. We had better get some sort of plan sorted pretty quick, seeing as we’re both deep in the shit, eh?” smiled Karl.
“How can you smile at a time like this?”
“Well, I have a kind of plan”.
“What kind of plan?” enquired Stefan.
“Finish your meal, I’ll get a couple of beers then we’ll go for a walk in Volkspark to see if there is any activity yet and I’ll tell you” Karl casually waved over the barman.

The Volkspark seemed normal, people walking dogs, sitting talking, playing games, groups of schoolkids with their teachers learning about nature and most importantly, nobody was swimming because it was too cold. It was quiet at the end where the sluice was, at the deepest part of the lake, where Schneider’s body was.

Karl told Stefan what he had in mind. They spent an hour talking about it and walking around the park before returning to Gunter’s to concentrate on the Beanpole case to take their minds off things for a while. Karl spread a few papers on the table. Stefan took a sideways glance at Karl. It was possible, thought Stefan but it suddenly occurred to him, he was putting his trust, infact his whole life in the hands of murderer. Infact he was sitting at the same table and drinking beer with him. If the schedule Karl mentioned was agreed by Lehmann at headquarters, maybe it was possible.

They spent a bit of time staking out Beanpole then reported back to Lichtenberg. As they walked along the long corridor to their office, shafts of light from the low sun painted bright yellow radials on the dismal walls, a voice boomed out from Lehmann’s almost luxurious abode. “Schneider didn’t go home last night Heiden?”
Karl popped his head round the door, cool as you want “Hello boss. Good for him, has he got a fancy woman after all this time?”
“Don’t get clever, Heiden” snapped Lehmann, not wishing to compromise the surveillance of one of his own agents, he just said “I thought you might have seen him last night, he was in your area”.
“No sir, I was in the Drei Hüte Club last night.”

Lehmann almost said “I know” but thought better of it.
“Just watch yourself Heiden” snapped Lehmann. “There are people who don’t think you’re Stasi material, isn’t that right Ziegler?”
Stefan tried to ignore the comment but clearly blushed, pretending to look at the picture of Erich Honecker instead “None of my business Sir. I’m just paid to do whatever job you send me out on”. He thought it was better to say something rather than nothing, then maybe explain to Karl on the way home if he asked.

Karl never asked.