The East Germans have, in fact, been innovative generally. The G.D.R. has no mountain higher than 4,000 feet, but its now successful ski-jumping program received a boost in the early '50s when a coach discovered that a certain plastic material, when sprayed with water, would assume the properties of slick snow. The then emergent G.D.R. women swimmers shocked the world in 1972 with their membrane-thin "skin suits." At Innsbruck this year, the G.D.R. won big with a new luge that involved steering with the legs instead of the hands, and it also introduced a sleek new bobsled.
Clever, these East Germans. During a Spartakiad swim meet in Leipzig, a husky balding coach named Horst Lange mysteriously led me off to a locker room adjacent to the pool area. There he opened a locker and removed—no, not steroids—but a wooden cutout puppet of a swimmer, hinged at all the joints. "It's my own design," he said with unconcealed pride. "I use it to show children flaws in their technique."
The six-day sporting safari yielded many impressions, some of them conflicting. The status of women in G.D.R. sport—and in East German society generally—is undoubtedly favorable, yet any suggestion that male chauvinism has been forever eliminated was splendidly dispelled by Gerhard Hesse, the mayor of Skeuditz, a factory town of 16,000 on the outskirts of Leipzig. Passing a pinup of a nude woman in a locker room of the local Schwimmhalle, the B�rgermeister said with a leering wink, "She is not from here—she is much too good for our town." As for the elimination of sexual roles, there was the case of the Spartakiad gymnastics meet in a musty old schoolhouse in Leipzig that featured 60 beribboned, pig-tailed girls and exactly six boys. "Boys only want to play soccer," grieved the sweat-suited meet director. "What can we do?"
On the bus one day I asked Peter Herrmann about the Sport ist Mord expression. Immediately, he replied, "Oh, you're thinking of Akkord ist Mord, an expression from capitalist days. Akkord means..." He riffled through a pocket English-German dictionary. "...ah yes, it means 'piecework.' Piecework is murder." Herrmann was pensive a moment, before adding softly, "Sport ist Mord? I've never heard anybody say this before."
One bright afternoon in Berlin I went for a walk with an English-speaking West German of my acquaintance who had come over to the G.D.R. capital for the day. On a street corner we asked directions of a wiry little man who, realizing I was an American, extended his hand and exclaimed, "How do you do, Coney Island?"
It turned out to be the only English the man knew. More soberly, he motioned in the direction of the Wall and said in German, "Soon you will be going back to the other world, where I cannot go. I wish I could come along." Nobody could think of anything more to say. The man stuck out his hand and said in parting, "How do you do, Coney Island?"
The trip to the other world was, once again, through Checkpoint Charlie. The ashen-faced guard was nowhere to be seen, which seemed a pity. The G.D.R. swimming championships were continuing, and in a preliminary heat earlier that day, blond, hawk-nosed Roger Pyttel had broken Mark Spitz' world record in the 200-meter butterfly, a record he would further lower in the evening finals to 1.59.63. The guard had neglected to include the 19-year-old Pyttel in his breathless list of names, and one could imagine him now making amends by saying, "Roger Pyttel, gut, ja?"
It would have been necessary to agree with him once more.