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Already accustomed to the tedium of prison life from his months at the UHA, Schmidt grimly settled in for the duration of his sentence. "I never bitched about the G.D.R. or the sports system or anything," he recalled. "Everybody knew that if he said anything out of line, a roommate would probably rat on him. Any crack about the regime could add months to your sentence." His work at the KFZ was hard, and deadly boring. "In winter, I-washed cars by hand, shined them, then watched as they drove away in the slush and were dirty after 400 meters. In summer, I had to paint huge 6,000-liter tank trucks that had to be derusted with a small wire brush, then sprayed with green paint that was so toxic that, despite the heat of summer, I had to wear many layers of clothes, a fur cap and a kerchief over my mouth. If I got paint in my eyes, I had to wash them immediately or I might have gone blind."
Schmidt watched TV nightly with his cellmates and sometimes played chess. Warden Shultz permitted him to work out, lifting dumbbells and doing calisthenics after work and running laps around the prison courtyard. To Schmidt's annoyance, Wiedemann followed him to Frankfurt an der Oder, turning up at least once a month to interrogate him. "He was my permanent educator, so to speak, my brainwasher," Schmidt said. "I looked forward to the steak and the ice cream, but I did not like what he said. He kept asking, 'What do you want to do with yourself when you get out of jail?' I never varied my answer: 'I would like to become a world-class competitor in the discus again.' And he would shake his head: 'Not possible anymore. Not possible ever.' "
As the months passed, Schmidt became more frustrated. At last he asked the onion-nosed swindler, Zidorn, if he knew of anything that Schmidt might try to get himself out sooner. Zidorn advised him to inform Wiedemann that he wished to make a formal application for an exit visa. On April 6, 1983, Schmidt did exactly that. The Stasi colonel seemed surprised, but he offered Schmidt his own ballpoint pen to write the request.
"Now it was on the record for all to see," Schmidt recalled. "I only wish I had known what trouble it would cause." He had no reaction from the authorities for about eight weeks. Then suddenly, one morning in June, Warden Shultz and two guards hustled him roughly out of the KFZ and took him to a solitary cell 10 feet square, with a plank bed and a slop pail in a corner—no toilet, no washbasin. He was left there, day after day, with no explanation. "I fell into a state of somnolence, like being in hibernation," he recalled. He was alone for 10 days.
When he was at last moved to a normal cell with a mattress and plumbing, Shultz demanded, "Well, Schmidt. Where are we going from here? You are one big problem prisoner." He cited a few misdemeanors that Schmidt was supposed to have committed at work. They were so petty that Schmidt burst out in anger: "You know what? I expected more from you as a communist and a comrade, but you are a small speck of nothing!"
This enraged Shultz, and he ordered two guards to return Schmidt to solitary. "I saw the same cell, the plank bed, the slop bucket, and I couldn't face one more hour in there," Schmidt said. "I refused to go in. I twisted against the guards, I yelled. They tore their truncheons from their belts and they began to beat me. Their eyes were popping and they were grunting with every blow. They pounded harder, harder on my back and shoulders. I gave up. I might beat these two, but there were dozens of guards."
Wolfgang Schmidt—decorated superstar of the German Democratic Republic, holder of the world record in the discus throw, possessor of an Olympic silver medal, owner of two Orders of Merit of the Fatherland—groaned in pain as he stretched out on his bed of boards and fought to keep himself from going insane. "I played a mind game with myself, pretending that I was only an actor making a film about prison and that the shooting schedule was dragging out longer than it should, but that nothing could be done about it. I also relived all my memories, my visits abroad, my conversations with old friends in the West. Sometime around the seventh day of my second 10 days in solitary, Wiedemann came from Berlin. We did not meet in my stinking cell. He summoned me to an office downstairs. There, he berated me: 'Have you gone crazy? Do you want to add two years to your sentence? I suggest you withdraw the exit visa request.' "
Schmidt was alarmed, but he did not rescind the application. When he was released at the end of his second 10 days in solitary, he had lost 13 pounds, and his back was still sore from the beating as well as from sleeping on boards for so long. He returned to a cold reception from his cellmates. "They did not offer sympathy," he recalled. "Most of them had disliked me because I was famous and had seen the world. When I got into trouble, most of them were gloating that the authorities had punished a decorated athlete who had lived better than they."
Schmidt returned to the bleak routines of the KFZ, but he felt something strange in the air—a sense that people were watching him, waiting for something. Finally, Zidorn told him that the word was out that the authorities had decided to break Schmidt for good unless he withdrew his exit visa application. "They'll never let you leave the country, Wolfgang," said the swindler. "They'll put you in solitary again and again."
Frightened at the thought of another stretch of solitary, Schmidt notified Wiedemann that he had changed his mind about leaving the G.D.R. The Stasi insisted that Schmidt put his decision in writing. He wrote verbatim what Wiedemann dictated: "Herewith I withdraw my application for an exit visa. It is my wish to work in the G.D.R. as a coach in the throwing events or as the caretaker of a fitness club." Wiedemann insisted that Schmidt add, "My decision is voluntary."