In recent years he had sometimes seemed to go out of his way to irritate the martinets and party hard-liners who ran the DTSB. He had flouted the rules that forbade him to befriend athletes from the West, and he had dated women he knew the sports regime disapproved of, including a Canadian and a married woman. At the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, he had finished a surprisingly poor fourth in the discus throw and then offended the entire world communist hierarchy by running across the infield of Lenin Stadium and shaking his fist at the 100,000 spectators who had disrupted the Games with their earsplitting whistles and hysterical jeers at all non-Soviet competitors.
But of all the offenses Schmidt committed against the DTSB, the one that bothered—and alarmed—the leadership most was his fascination with the West. Schmidt had never officially declared his desire to leave the G.D.R., but he had mentioned it more and more openly to friends and family, including—dangerously enough, as it turned out—his own father.
Ernst Schmidt was 62 in the summer of 1982. He was an imperious, white-haired lion of a man who had been the decathlon champion of the Third Reich in the early 1940s and, after the war, had become a dedicated communist party member and, for more than 30 years, a leading light in the mighty East German sports machine. He was present at the birth of the sports system in the early 1950s, served as head coach of the track and field program into the early 1960s and, for the following 20 years, was head coach of the men in the throwing events—including, of course, his own son. Most East German athletes and coaches had long assumed that because of Ernst's position in the hierarchy of the DTSB, Wolfgang enjoyed extra protection and special favors. This was true.
Nevertheless, Ernst believed in harsh discipline and rigid rules, and he disapproved mightily of his son's maverick ways. "Our arguments about the contradictions in socialism went on all our lives," Wolfgang said, "but they were particularly fierce after I got Sportverbot. I would shout at him, 'See? I told you there was no freedom here. I want to go west!' And he would yell back, 'You're out of sports, you can go to work, you can take a job!' And I would yell back, 'I will compete somewhere else! I will break out of this barbed-wire box!' And Father would give me one of his goddam huge supply of slogans: 'Jeder ist seines Glückes Schmied'—'Life is what you make it.' And I would scream back, 'You know what my slogan is? "Better dead than Red!" Just give me a hole, and I am gone!' "
Tormenting his father with such treasonous sentiments was no risk in itself, for loyal as he was to the G.D.R. and the party, Ernst loved his son much more than he loved his politics. It never occurred to him to turn Wolfgang in for wanting to defect. However, as the two titans bellowed at each other, there was probably a Stasi recording device concealed in the family apartment, taking in every word. It was Ernst himself who eventually came to this conclusion. He never had more than circumstantial evidence. But, of course, it didn't really matter if the apartment was bugged or not. For one great and terrible truth about life in a police state is that no evidence, no witness, no reason is ever required to imprison a man, no matter how famous or important he is.
As a hero of the G.D.R., Wolfgang Schmidt had always been possessed by the DTSB, the Stasi, the state, far more than he had possessed himself. For years they had allowed him to live in an athlete's Utopia—the best coaches, the best food, the best drugs, the best doctors. And now they had decided to take all that away and to kill him as an athlete. All great athletes die twice—once as competitors and once as people. By locking Schmidt away from his sport in his prime, the powers of the G.D.R. had sentenced him to his first death at a tragically early age.
A little after 5 p.m., Schmidt heard keys turning and stood transfixed as the double doors to his cell opened and two new actors entered the afternoon's drama. One was tall, with slick black hair and a dark suit and nipped-up tic that made him look like a wealthy businessman. His name, he said, was Lieutenant Colonel Wiedemann of the Stasi. Schmidt described him later: "He was a stuck-up twit, as vain, stiff and arrogant as the Lord of Alexanderplatz. But I noticed that his fingernails were bitten to the quick, so I knew that the big boy was as nervous as a schoolgirl under his field marshal's manners." The other man was short, fat and clumsy, with bright-red hair and freckles. "I never did learn his name," Schmidt later recalled, "but I came to think of him as Repulsive Red. He smoked all the time, inhaling through his teeth with a hissing sound and exhaling in sharp puffs—poh, poh, poh."
Wiedemann wasted no time. He said, "We are from the investigation department of the ministry for state security. What the hell is the matter with you?"
Schmidt was alarmed. "Nothing is the matter," he answered. "Why am I here?"
The tall Stasi said coolly, "You cannot know that until you tell us what is the matter with you."