Unfortunately, it was terribly constrained, perhaps more painful to the three Schmidts than if they had not met at all. Wolfgang recalled, "We met in a room where Stasis remained at all times. We would have liked to weep and embrace, but we could only make small talk—about mowing the lawn at the summer house, about how the spark plugs were working in my father's car. It was a scene for black comedy."
His mother wrote him the permitted four letters a month, sometimes just nattering pleasantly about life at home, sometimes bringing bad news—such as the fact that his father might need surgery for a prostate condition and was also being forced to retire from the DTSB. "It is the hammer for your father," Gretel wrote. "The years of his work don't count, only this moment counts. His illness is only a welcome excuse. How would it sound if they had to say, 'You are finished because your son is in jail'?"
Soon after this, word came that Schmidt's trial would be held on Oct. 12—102 days after his arrest. He was formally charged with plotting to leave the G.D.R. and with illegal possession of a firearm. The trial was held in a small, empty courtroom in Lichtenberg, a Berlin suburb, and not even the defendant's parents were allowed to attend. "This is obviously not something they want to shout from the housetops," said Starkulla.
The most damaging witness testified first, and Schmidt gasped in disbelief at his identity: It was Jochen Brüggmann, a middle-aged fellow who claimed to be a porcelain dealer and had first met Schmidt at a track meet in the spring of 1981. Brüggmann had begged for an autograph, then had so insinuated himself into Schmidt's affections that he became a frequent guest at the apartment on Stahlheimer Strasse. Now, on the stand, this "friend" spoke coldly and viciously of Schmidt's criticism of the G.D.R. and his oft-repeated desire to leave the country. There were no redeeming qualities in Brüggmann's portrait of Schmidt. "He had been like a leech, sucking my blood," Schmidt said. "I could not bring myself to look at him, this Stasi slug. Well, I had never been smart enough to slam the door on him, but now I had learned a lot about life from that piece of filth."
Wiedemann testified against Schmidt too. The trial took one day. The next day the judge sentenced Schmidt to 18 months in prison. "This troubled me, but it didn't knock me really low," recalled Schmidt. "I thought, Well, I can sit that out on one buttock. When I get out, I'll still be able to throw, and I'll show them!"
But he was not so jaunty when his parents visited him a week later. Schmidt talked of shooting himself rather than spend more time in a jail cell. His mother wrote him immediately after the visit: "We both are very worried about your psychological condition.... We can only hope that you use your energy to find inner peace to carry you through and bring your personality back to normal."
Schmidt was transferred on Nov. 6 from the UHA to a proper prison in Frankfurt an der Oder, about 50 miles east of Berlin. He was now pale and gaunt. When he left the UHA, they gave him the clothing he had worn on the day of his arrest. The pants slipped down his hips, and the shirt was as loose as a bag. He had lost 20 pounds. At the new prison, Schmidt was given another blue warmup suit, then was taken to meet the warden. He was a hulking fellow with a huge block of a head and an earnest, droopy expression. Schmidt didn't catch his name, so he called him Shultz because of his resemblance to the man who was then U.S. secretary of state, George Shultz.
The warden himself took his famous new boarder on a tour of the prison. First, he showed Schmidt the four-room apartment he would share with the 19 other members of his Strafkompanie (work battalion). There was a kitchen, two living rooms with TV sets, and a dormitory where all 20 men slept in bunk beds. "The kitchen had a refrigerator and, for some reason, a huge community bread knife, sharp as a razor," Schmidt recalled. "I always worried that someone might go berserk and use it. There was no stove in the kitchen. That, for some reason, was in the bathroom at the other end of the apartment. Sometimes you would enter it and find a man cooking eggs while another man was sitting on the toilet a few feet away."
During the prison tour, Shultz kept up a confidential running commentary about various prisoners. He pointed to a fat, bald man known as der Gläitte, "the Slick One," and told Schmidt that he was an Asozialer, one of dozens of "antisocials" imprisoned there for refusing to work or for being public nuisances. "Be wary of that one," the warden whispered. Then he pointed out a short, fortyish man with thick spectacles and an onion-shaped nose, whose name was Rainer Zidorn. The warden explained that on the outside Zidorn had been a swindler dealing in hard-to-get apartments, but on the inside he was well connected. "Stick close to this man," said the warden.
Shultz then showed Schmidt his workplace in the auto service department, known as the KFZ (for Kraftfahrzeugdienst), where prison cars were repaired, painted and washed in a row of garages along one side of the prison wall, which loomed about 20 feet high and had a watchtower at each corner. The warden introduced Schmidt to workers at the KFZ. Otto was a short-tempered, slovenly former policeman who had become a drunk after his wife left him and who had wound up jailed as an Asozialer. Skibbi was a former bus driver who had had an accident in which a couple of passengers were killed. Sosse (from the German word for "sauce") was a very young alcoholic who had run over and killed a pedestrian while driving drank.