Tuesday, March 2, 2010
The curious case of Lutz Eigendorf - Part 2
Most West Germans never doubted the police's explanation for Lutz Eigendorf's death and accepted the theory that it was an accident as the most likely.
• Uli Hesse: Part 1 of the story
At that time, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was ridiculed rather than demonised by most ordinary citizens in the West and the idea that the so-called communist country's secret police may have been up to foul play on West German territory against a young man who was, after all, just a footballer seemed far-fetched, if not absurd.
But Eigendorf's friends, especially those from the GDR, felt differently. Jorg Berger, for instance, suspected murder the instant he heard of Eigendorf's death.
"I underestimated the Stasi - until that thing with Eigendorf happened," Berger said last April. "A journalist told us the news and I immediately turned to my wife and said: 'Now I've got to be even more careful. They are capable of everything'." His wife, a Westerner, feared her husband was suffering from paranoia, which was a quite typical reaction. Even when Berger was hospitalised three years later with symptoms of paralysis and told her he had been poisoned, she remained sceptical.
Then, in late 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. Gradually, more and more secret East German police files were made accessible. Heribert Schwan, a Cologne journalist and filmmaker, became interested in the Eigendorf case and collected material that was as terrifying as it was amazing.
Schwan's evidence, made into a film and published as a book a decade ago, leaves no doubt that Eigendorf was much more than just a footballer in the eyes of Erich Mielke. The head of the secret police was livid when a player from his club deserted the country and was determined to not let this go unpunished. According to the files Schwan found, Mielke had up to 50 undercover agents spying on Eigendorf, recording his every move. But that was only the beginning.
The files covering an operation code-named 'Rose' explain why Eigendorf's wife Gabriele did not try to get in touch with her husband, let alone follow him to the West - the GDR's secret police had sent out various agents whose job it was to seduce Gabriele and estrange her from Lutz. One such 'Romeo', as intelligence agencies call these male impostors, was spectacularly successful: recruited by the Stasi with the explicit order to become romantically involved with Eigendorf's wife, he married Gabriele before 1979 was over and adopted Sandy, Eigendorf's daughter.
Another 'Romeo', Schwan discovered, had been none other than Karl-Heinz Felgner. According to the files, the former boxer was by no means an unwanted citizen in the GDR, quite the contrary: he had been a so-called informal collaborator, a spy, for the secret police since the mid-1970s. When Felgner failed as a 'Romeo' because he couldn't win Gabriele's heart, he was sent to the West to gain Eigendorf's trust and report on what the player was doing, saying and thinking.
But was that all he was asked to do? As detailed and extensive as the East German files are until roughly late 1982, there are astonishingly few documents dealing with the last months of Eigendorf's short life. "Those files have been destroyed," Schwan said in 2008, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Eigendorf's death. "But there is one important document. A document which proves Eigendorf was poisoned. And which also mentions 'flashing'. Flashing means that a car hidden in the dark suddenly turns the headlights to full." (Which blinded oncoming drivers so that they lost control of the car - highly dangerous if it happened near a dangerous curve.
Flashing was a common assassination method, used by the Stasi because it was almost impossible to prove and made premeditated murder look like an accident.)
The document Schwan was referring to contains hand-written notes, 32 pages in all. They convinced the journalist that a Stasi agent had kidnapped Eigendorf and forced him, at gunpoint, to drink a large amount of alcohol spiced with a poison that acts on nerve cells. The player was then allowed to leave and it seems quite plausible that he - under the influence of shock, fear, alcohol and a neurotoxin - jumped into his car, drove off as fast as he could ... and was 'flashed' by a second agent.
Schwan first published his findings and theories ten years ago, when he produced a documentary for public-service television and also put out a book. Both argue strongly that one of the two agents who were directly involved in Eigendorf's death must have been Felgner. The ensuing investigation lasted for many years, but it came to nothing.
Felgner admitted to his role as a Stasi informant, but he had an alibi for the night of Eigendorf's car crash. Moreover, he denied that there had ever been a plan to murder the footballer.
The Berlin Wall prevented people travelling between West and East Germany until 1989 (GettyImages)
This man is a nutcase, a liar and a pompous ass. He's a wreck. When my book came out, he threatened to kill me.
- Heribert Schwan on Karl-Heinz Felgner
Which is why his testimony on February 9 made the news. For the first time in more than a quarter of a century, somebody who had been directly involved in the operation said that the Stasi were not content with having Eigendorf watched and tailed by agents - they wanted him dead. "I only accepted the murder contract so that they would allow my girlfriend to leave the GDR and come to the West with me," Felgner told the Dusseldorf judge. He added that he never intended to execute the order and that he eventually didn't have to - because fate intervened. "Eigendorf's car crash practically fell into my lap," Felgner said.
"This man is a nutcase, a liar and a pompous ass," Schwan said when he was told about Felgner's testimony in February. "He's a wreck. When my book came out, he threatened to kill me." Schwan maintains his theory is correct and that Eigendorf was a murder victim. He has repeatedly called for an exhumation of the corpse to find traces of poison. This idea is now supported by Hubertus Knabe, the director of the Berlin-Hohenschonhausen Memorial, dedicated to the victims of the Stasi.
"Felgner played a central role in this case," Knabe says. "And he was paid a premium shortly after Eigendorf's death!" Whether Schwan's and Knabe's suggestion will ever be taken up is doubtful, because exhumation is a serious and legally complicated matter. When asked for comment, the Berlin state prosecutor refused to commit himself.
However, he issued a statement that said: "Murder has no statute of limitations."