17. Stavanger

STAVANGER
It was 45 hours later when the ship moored at Stavanger in darkness. Jens had slept for the last 10 hours, the exhaustion of staying awake and vigilant had taken it’s toll. The slowing of the engines then the lurching of the ship alarmed him and he quickly adapted to his new predicament. He had no idea how long he’d been asleep and took a careful peek through a tiny gap between the canvas cover and the rowlocks. It was then when he noticed two shiny firebuckets under the side seat filled with some old clothes, which was weird but then nothing seemed real in his life anymore.

There was movement on the docks but it was a few hundred metres away. He realised, with a certain amount of alarm, that his lifeboat was on the starboard side and he’d have to cross the whole deck before he could see anything remotely like an escape route.
It wasn’t worth the risk moving just yet as he couldn’t see to his left at all and that was where the two men in military uniforms had stood and talked. He decided to wait and listen.

While Jens had been hiding in the boat, he’d become familiar with the mechanisms and dimensions. It had a small motor attached to the stern with heavy duty bolts. The rowlocks were new, there was no rust anywhere, the lifeboat was in pretty well mint condition. There were four oars laid over two heavy duty hooks bolted onto the inside of the boat. There were 5 seats and what looked like 2 cork floats, one at each end of the boat under rope nets. Under the seats were two buckets with clothes in and some wursts and black bread in a nylon bag. Strange, thought Jens but he was half starving and cold so he helped himself to one of the wursts. He remembered his own salami so he resolved to save that and eat all this food in the bucket. His last meal was a watery meatball and onion soup in the cafe in Rostock.

It was natural to be hungry and natural to eat food to stave off hunger but he’d once gone 3 days without food or sleep in Hohenschönhausen, the Stasi prison in Berlin. He had drawn a small penis next to a picture of Erich Honecker in the passport office when his application to visit Poland was turned down.

He was hauled into prison within hours, two Stasi men burst into his flat & turned it upside down before manhandling Jens into a black Lada. He was accused of crimes against the state. Luckily for him, his father-in-law was a head teacher and quite well up in the SED, the Socialist Unionist Party, which pulled all the strings and made up the Govt, politburo and almost every top position in the country. Jens was out within a week, a bit roughed up to teach him a lesson, he vowed never to end up in there again.

It was decision time. Should he slip out of the lifeboat while it was still dark and take his chance or wait until it became lighter so he could see where he was and what was happening. He was happier now with something in his stomach, infact he was positively contented and would have stayed there and slept but he really needed to get off this ship. He wasn’t as light headed now but he was thirsty from the spicy wursts.

He sat there in silence pondering, wondering what the hell he’d got himself into. He couldn’t get complacent. Suddenly he heard footsteps, just one person, slow and steady but getting closer to him and his hiding place. The footsteps stopped almost alongside the lifeboat. He heard a fumbling sound and the squeak of new leather then a match was struck. A few seconds later he could smell strong tobacco smoke. Whoever it was, was standing very close to his only escape route.

He stopped breathing, then in the silence of the night came a gentle “Sssst”. He froze, terrified to breath either in or out. Again “Sssst”. Then came the blow he feared “Hallo?” What should he do? Ignore it, feign invisibility? Slide over the other side of the boat and take his chance over the side? But it was a 20 metre drop into a black and very cold sea. Before he had a chance to decide, the voice said in a low voice “Hallo, I know you are there and I want to help you”. How did he know he was there? Hadn’t he looked around carefully before slipping into the lifeboat?

After a few seconds, during which time he’d weighed up the odds of survival in several scenarios, Jens whispered “Who is that?”
“Talk normally in a soft voice, the sound carries less than a whisper” said the man. “You can come out, we are alone”. This worried Jens. If it was the Stasi, that wasn’t possible, they always hunted in twos. Yet he only heard one pair of footsteps.
“It is quite safe. Everyone is either ashore or asleep, there’s a long voyage ahead tomorrow. Did you know this ship is bound for Canada? You will need to eat and drink, so please come out”.

Jens slowly moved the canvas flap to reveal the back of a man in the grey uniform of a border guard. So it wasn’t the Stasi after all. A shiver ran down his spine. He knew it. He knew he had been deceived. The man didn’t move, instead beckoned with his left hand for Jens to come out at that side. There was a dark shadow behind a capstan, Jens slid out carefully and crouched down behind it. The man told him to wait and not to move.

After a long period of silence the man turned and again told Jens to wait, then he walked slowly across the deck to the other side, stubbed his cigarette out on the hand rail and walked back. “Follow me, do what I say” said the man. Jens followed a metre behind. The man walked slowly and deliberately but with very little noise, at least far less noise than he made when he’d first approached the lifeboat Jens was hiding in.

There was something strange. It was as if the man had wanted Jens to hear him approaching, or maybe he wanted someone else to hear his footsteps? At that point another man stepped out from behind the wheelhouse bulkhead hatch. “So!” he said in a low friendly voice. “We need to talk”.

Jens was fearing the worst by now. “Who are you, how did…” was as far as Jens got before being told to shut up.
“Don’t talk, there will be plenty of time for that in a few minutes. All night infact, just follow”. The low voices had stayed at the same steady decibel level all the time. Clearly these men were trained in some aspect or other.

The second man turned and walked slowly, silently on rubber soles towards a light and turned right through a cream coloured albeit rusty cabin door. “Quick, in” he said. Jens and the first man followed. “Down the steps, first cabin on the right”. Jens stumbled a bit down the almost vertical stairs and went into the cabin, the two men followed. The door was closed firmly behind them and the lever lock was pulled down slowly and quietly.
Jens had stayed silent, now he wanted to know what the hell was happening. Before he had a chance to say anything, the second man produced a piece of paper. On it was some small hastily written text which Jens could not read. “Read it” motioned the first man. “I can’t without my glasses” said Jens. The two men both laughed albeit quietly. The second man got out a pair of reading glasses which looked remarkably like Honecker’s larger than life brown hornrims. Jens took them and put them on.

He began to read “Do not speak, the room might be bugged” read the note. Jens looked quizzically at the two faces opposite him.
The second man pulled a tape recorder from under the bed. Jens reeled in horror. Was it all a trick? This is exactly what the Stasi did. But surely Stasi men didn’t go to sea, did they? Were they going to torture or blackmail him into a confession? The man clicked one of the buttons and turned a knob. The tapes began turning and gradually the sound faded in and gradually got louder. It was a rock song by Die Puhdys, he recognised it. He’d seen them a few times in Berlin.

When it was loud enough to mask their voices, the second man nodded to the first one.
“My name is Karl”.
“Why did you stow away on this ship?” said the other man.
“It doesn’t matter Stefan” said Karl.
“It does if it compromises our escape!” hissed Stefan.
“Escape?” blurted out Jens.
Karl looked at Stefan in a knowing way.

“We have to tell him” said Karl
Stefan looked angry, more so with himself for letting it slip but became very serious and informed Jens “We should not be on this ship but we messed up so we can’t go back, we can’t go to the FDR. If we were found, we’d be interrogated and if the DDR or KGB agents found us, probably shot”.

“We have planted a small detonator in the engine rooms which we will activate just as the ship is leaving Londonderry. It has to stop there to offload some cargo. It will create a long enough distraction for us to escape. It will only disable one engine. Don’t worry.” said Karl in a low voice.
Stefan looked quizzically at Karl.

“A bomb?” blurted out Jens loudly.
“Quiet, idiot” hissed Karl.
“We can talk but keep your voices down”, said Stefan “We’ve told you our names, now we need yours?” He was clearly the senior partner.
“It’s Jens. You’re really planning to escape?” said Jens, still reeling from reading such treacherous revelations.
“Jens what? asked the first man. “We need to become friends, to help each other”.

This was a test of each other’s nerve but Jens had lost his almost immediately the moment he was found in the lifeboat. “Buchholz, Jens Buchholz” he said “Are you really trying to escape?” he repeated.
“Yes, we are. My full name is Karl Heiden” said the first man, whose dialect Jen recognised as Berlin Brandenburgish. “We want you to believe us Jens”.
“My name is Stefan Ziegler, I’m from Leipzig” volunteered the second man in his strong Saxony dialect.