15. Beanpole

Every year, Hans Becker took a week’s holiday in Rostock. His father was a big noise in the party, that’s all he knew. His father never told him anything he didn’t need to know. Konrad Becker was fluent in Russian and an expert in the communist doctrine, which made him a valuable asset as a party propagandist. He was influential in the schools and universities curriculum policy. Hans had nothing in common with his father apart from being long and thin, hence his Stasi nickname. As a child he wasn’t remotely interested in school and preferred to mess about with his friends in the forests. He was offered a post in Charité hospital after he left college with more than a helping hand up from his father otherwise he’d have been looking after pigs on a collective or digging roads up.

Charité was state of the art hospital. All East German citizens were entitled to free healthcare and the technology in this field was a good as anywhere in the world. Hans didn’t really like hospitals. There was a peculiar smell, disagreeable infact, a throwback to when he was a boy. He broke his arm after falling from a tree swing on a family holiday near Müggelsee. After a leap into the void accompanied by a blood curdling Tarzan yell, he slipped down the rope onto a pile of rocks. He ended up in hospital and spent most of his summer holiday recuperating with a full arm plastercast. His father sent him by train to Rostock to stay with his grandparents.

The hospital gave him 16 days holiday a year and almost every one was spent at his grandparent’s riverside flat with the exception of a couple at Free German Youth (FDJ) summer camps, which he hated. This year would be no exception and in a week’s time he would be relaxing on his grandparent’s balcony watching boats and ships sailing up and down the estuary.

Hans was under surveillance, his case name was Beanpole as far as the Stasi were concerned. Some of his friends in the hospital had led him astray. He was turning up for work late, sometimes drunk. His life revolved around drinking and talking down the life he and everyone else lived. He was constantly talking about America, New York and Hollywood. Sitting in the hospital garden one day having a cigarette and coffee, a trainee doctor he was friends with strolled along and sat next to him for a chat. They talked about the job, their forthcoming holidays and the blond girl who worked on 3C. He asked him what it was about America that he found so interesting given that they were supposed to be the sworn enemy of the DDR. Whatever his answers were, they didn’t go down too well with the trainee and he dutifully reported what he’d heard to the party leaders.

Lehmann called Karl and Stefan into his office that morning.
“Sit down, I’ve got a little job for you. You go Saturday. You will need a change of clothes, enough for at least a week” he announced. Stefan looked at Karl.
“What’s up, you should be happy, you’re going to the seaside” laughed Lehmann loudly.
“What’s the story Sir?” asked Karl.
“Beanpole” snapped Lehmann “He’s a risk, he’s talking too much, about Honecker, the party, the country and generally making himself conspicuous, we don’t want to take him in just yet, he might lead us to some interesting people, so we’d sooner have him followed than arrested.”
Stefan expressed surprise that Lehmann had called the party secretary by his name.
Lehmann was merely playing a game by doing this, looking for the reactions of the two men.
Karl was impassive. “What’s it got to do with us, we’re just paid to follow him and his friends then we let the listening guys know and they do the rest.”
“Well, every year he goes to Rostock to stay with relatives for his summer holiday” said Lehmann. “And you’re going to keep an eye on him, he may have friends in Rostock”.
“You can go in that little green car of yours Stefan, we’ll pay for the petrol to get you there, we’ll even give you 20 Ostmarks each for your accommodation and expenses.”
“That’s very generous Sir,” said Karl with a hint of sarcasm.

“We think he might try to board a vessel and if he does, it’s your job to apprehend him and bring him to me, oh and Heiden, for God’s sake, get a shave, you need to look like a holiday maker, not a drunken sailor. Now, go and rest for a couple of days.”

Stefan always felt stressed in Lehmann’s presence. All three of them smoked and at times they could hardly see the walls of the office. He couldn’t wait to get out onto the street and get some fresh air. They agreed to go to Gunter’s again for a beer.

But twenty stupid Ostmarks, how far does he think that will go?”
“Nice of him to fill the car up though”
“Yeah, you’ll be paying though, you’ll have to go through expenses to claim it back” explained Karl.
“That’s twenty gone already then ‘cos they never pay out” moaned Stefan.
“What do you think though?” said Stefan. “I mean about the job”
“It’s free holiday” smiled Karl, looking down his cigarette, taking a long draw on it and going cross eyed in the procedure.

“What does he really want us to do, one minute we’re watching a suspect, the next he’s sending us off on our holidays, with pay!” laughed Stefan. It was the first time he’d allowed himself to laugh for a long while. He was looking forward to getting away and the relief was tangible.

They had another three beers each, talk revolved around sport, football in particular, Karl talked about how poorly Union Berlin were doing, Stefan was a Lokomotiv Leipzig fan so he had much more to shout about, however the Dynamo Berlin ice hockey team was their common denominator as far a sport was concerned.

Shouldn’t we be planning how were going to keep tabs on the kid?” suggested Stefan.
“It’s pointless, he goes to his Granny’s house, sits on the balcony, camps there virtually there all week watching boats go up and down the estuary and that’s it, nothing to keep tabs on.” replied Karl with an air of indifference.

“I reckon we’ll go on Saturday then, it’ll be quiet, about 10 am okay?”
“Yes, okay by me,
make the most of your day off, come on, lets go” said Karl and got up to leave but then turned around and went back to the bar and told Gunter to keep the bar warm and the beer cool because he wouldn’t be back for a while. Stefan drank the rest of his beer, nodded to Gunter who nodded back with a bemused look on his face. Karl normally just ignored him, should he be happy or suspicious? Gunter stubbed out his cigarette, leaned on the bar and watched in silence as the two Stasi men walked out together.

They didn’t speak for a while then at the end of the road, Karl lit a cigarette, blew the smoke upwards, turned around to Stefan and very quietly said, “There’s been a change of plan. Don’t forget your ID cards, we’ll need them if we’re going to get out, God help us, we need to get out”. Karl turned on his heels, Stefan didn’t really know what to say so he said nothing and watched him gradually disappear into the misty night.