Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The curious case of Lutz Eigendorf - Part 1
Last August, a man in his mid-60s by the name of Karl-Heinz Felgner entered a drugstore in Dusseldorf. Four decades ago, he had won the East German featherweight and lightweight boxing titles; he was now on the dole and living in a shelter for the homeless.
Felgner had fathered nine children with six women in his life, which probably explains why he not only put a chocolate bar on the conveyor belt but also a pack of contraceptives.
The Berlin Wall prevented people travelling between West and East Germany until 1989 (GettyImages)
I was supposed to kill Lutz Eigendorf. He played for Mielke's favourite club then bunked off illegally. I accepted the murder contract but didn't fulfil it.
- Karl-Heinz Felgner
What happened next was the subject of a trial that was held two weeks ago, on February 9. According to Felgner himself, he paid for the candy and the condoms and then left. According to the cashier, the stocky, slightly scruffy customer suddenly brandished a steak knife, grabbed 400 euros from the till and ran out of the store.
Apparently the judge trusted the young cashier more than the defendant, a former soldier, combat diver, bouncer, waiter, boxing instructor and, bizarrely, financial adviser, because Felgner was given a sentence of six years and six months.
Yet that's not why this rather nondescript trial made headlines the next day in places as far away as Brunswick and Berlin. What proved newsworthy was a brief part of Felgner's rambling and ranting testimony. He mentioned that he used to work as an informer for the secret police of East Germany, adding: "I was supposed to kill Lutz Eigendorf. He played for Mielke's favourite club then bunked off illegally. I accepted the murder contract but didn't fulfil it."
Erich Mielke was the GDR's Minister of State Security and thus head of the secret police, known as the Stasi. He was also a big fan and honorary chairman of Dynamo Berlin. Lutz Eigendorf was a talented midfielder who had joined Dynamo's youth side at the age of 13 and quickly progressed through the ranks until becoming an East Germany international in August 1978, scoring both goals in a 2-2 draw with Bulgaria.
Seven months after his international debut, in March 1979, Eigendorf travelled with Dynamo to Kaiserslautern, West Germany, to play a friendly. At that time, Dynamo had made only sporadic forays into the UEFA Cup and had only been drawn against clubs from the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, so the away trip to Kaiserslautern marked the first time the players were allowed to see the other side of the Wall.
The East German functionaries in charge of the journey knew this was a risky affair. The country had already lost a few football talents to West Germany, such as coach Jorg Berger, midfielder Norbert Nachtweih or goalkeeper Jurgen Pahl, who had all used internationals on foreign soil to defect. Which is why the Dynamo players were subjected to two days' worth of lectures, indoctrinations and probably also veiled threats from army officers, politicians, policemen and representatives of the East German FA before the team set off for Kaiserslautern on March 19.
This meticulous preparation seemed to pay off. Even though the game against the Bundesliga side was lost 4-1, the good news for the Dynamo officials was that not a single player was missing when the team coach left for East Berlin at 6.15 in the morning on March 21, the day after the match. The last man who had boarded the bus was the 22-year-old Eigendorf.
A few hours later, however, the coach stopped in Giessen, a West German town, so that the players could spend whatever foreign currency they happened to have on Wrangler jeans, Jacobs coffee or Bee Gees records. Eigendorf strolled down the shopping zone with two of his wide-eyed team-mates, until he spotted what he had been looking for - a taxi. He fell behind, disappeared in the crowd, jumped into the car and told the cabbie to step on the gas. When he leaned back in the seat, he was no longer just a footballer but a political refugee.
For all we know, Eigendorf's escape was a spontaneous, probably even precipitant, act. He left a young family behind - a daughter called Sandy, aged two, and his wife, Gabriele, who had no idea her husband would never return from his trip to the West. Eigendorf must have figured it would all somehow work out and the East German authorities would allow his wife and daughter to leave the country and reunite the family. Like many other things, this would not turn out as planned.
Gabriele did not follow Lutz. Quite the contrary - she filed for divorce. Less than three months after his flight, a court in East Berlin ended Eigendorf's four-year-old marriage. This was a development he had not foreseen and which hit him hard, and there was another unpleasant surprise. Eigendorf had been aware that FIFA would suspend him for deserting his club, but he quickly found a Bundesliga team, Kaiserslautern, that was interested in signing him and offered Dynamo Berlin a five-figure sum as proper transfer compensation. But Dynamo declined the offer, thus passing up the chance to earn valuable Deutschmarks for a player they had lost anyway. Eigendorf was suspended for one year.
Yet, in many ways, his new life in the West did eventually straighten out for Eigendorf. He made good money, found a new love and would eventually marry again. There were also some old friends from the GDR - such as Karl-Heinz Felgner. Eigendorf knew him from the East Berlin nightlife and was pleased to unexpectedly meet him in late 1980. Felgner told his old friend that the GDR authorities had allowed him to legally leave the country because he was regarded as an unwanted citizen.
What didn't go quite as planned was Eigendorf's football career. He never fulfilled his unquestionable potential in the Bundesliga, partly because he lacked consistency and partly because he was often sidelined. In June 1982, Kaiserslautern sold him to Eintracht Braunschweig for 400,000 Marks. But Eigendorf made only eight appearances for Eintracht in the first 23 weeks of the next season due to various injuries - and he didn't live to see the 24th week. At 11.08 pm on March 5, 1983, rushing down a country road near Brunswick, Eigendorf wrapped his Alfa Romeo around a tree near a notoriously dangerous curve. He died two days later from severe head injuries. The police determined an enormous BAC (blood alcohol concentration) rating of 0.22 and declared his death an accident. The deceased was 26 years old.