Wolfgang Schmidt, the discus thrower, awoke late from uneasy dreams and arose, not knowing that his life was about to be transformed in a terrible way. It was July 2, 1982, a glistening summer Friday in East Berlin. He was alone in the apartment. He had shared the four cozy rooms with his mother, father and sister since the day he was born, 28 years earlier, but they were elsewhere this day. The rooms were lined with shelves containing trophies, medals, crystal baubles and framed photos of Schmidt with dignitaries of the German Democratic Republic. The apartment was a shrine to Schmidt's athletic achievements, but he was too depressed to notice or care about that. He shuffled into the bathroom and slowly brushed his teeth and shaved. He was caught in a limbo that had sapped his energy and preoccupied his mind.
"My life had no point at that time," he recalled later. "In March, the pigs at the DTSB [short for Deutscher Turn und Sport-Bund, the massive East German sports machine] had given me Sportverbot. Sportverbot! This meant I was banished from throwing the discus for the state, banished even from training seriously. The bastards told me I no longer fit the system. My god, I was the world-record holder! But it didn't matter. They allowed me only light training at my old club [the Sports Club Dynamo Berlin], only enough training to 'warm down' and bring my body back to normal from high-performance sport. They let me keep a locker. They let me eat lunch at SC Dynamo. Beyond that, Sportverbot! For the world-record holder? I didn't believe it. I convinced myself it was a transparent ploy by the DTSB to break my spirit and make me a sheep like all the others in their goddam pen. I believed it was a trick. How wrong I was...."
He dressed slowly in a white T-shirt, jeans and athletic shoes, and he packed his gym bag with training clothes and the wide leather belt he wore when he threw the discus. It was 1:15 p.m. when he descended the flight of stairs to Stahlheimer Strasse, a residential street in Old Berlin where leafy vines climb apartment-house walls and trolleys rumble pleasantly along tracks in the thoroughfare. Parked at the curb was another of Schmidt's trophies: a gleaming white Russian-made Lada 1600, a model driven by top officials of the government or military—plus a few sports heroes of the G.D.R. He had received it just eight months earlier from none other than Erich Mielke, minister of state security and chief of the G.D.R.'s infamous secret police, the Staatssicherheitsdienst, known as the Stasi. Mielke was also president of SC Dynamo, because it was the sports club sponsored by the police. The car had been a reward for Schmidt's various heroics over the years.
Schmidt slipped his massive physique—6'6¾" and 253 pounds—into the Lada and pulled away from the curb, bound for SC Dynamo about two miles away. It was a trip he had made hundreds of times without incident. On this day, he had driven only two blocks when he glanced in his rearview mirror and felt a chill run down the back of his neck. "Not two meters from my bumper was a dark-red Volkswagen Golf with two men in it," he recalled. "I had noticed a car close behind me a couple of other times since I had been declared 'unfit for the system.' I had sped up and it had dropped out of sight. This time I stepped on the gas again, but this time the Golf didn't drop back. After a couple of blocks, I swung quickly into a tiny, narrow street with cars parked on both sides. No one would follow there unless they were chasing me."
The Golf followed closely on his bumper, and Schmidt knew this was not going to be a routine trip to the sports club. He floored the gas pedal and swung screeching out of the little street onto a larger thoroughfare, picked up speed for a block, veered right at one corner, left at the next and onto a wide, busy street with stoplights every couple of blocks. "I was moving very, fast—120 kilometers per hour [75 mph]—dodging through traffic. The Golf fell back, out of sight. Then a motorcyclist roared up, and I assumed he would pass, but he held his speed at my side and glared furiously at me through black goggles. I accelerated again, but there were stoplights and I could not outrun the motorcycle. I slowed. Then I saw a green-and-white police car in the mirror, and I eased off the gas pedal."
Schmidt was himself a salaried officer of the Volkspolizei (VP), the People's Police, through his affiliation with SC Dynamo. He had been inducted at the age of 19, paid regularly and even promoted three times, though he had never spent a minute as a working policeman. It was all part of the DTSB's subterfuge to give athletes salaries without openly declaring them professionals. Though Schmidt was relieved by the sight of the squad car, he knew its presence would not necessarily work in his favor, because many police officers resented having their service used as a front to pay off pampered athletes.
"The police car now drew up very close, the motorcycle hugged my side, and I turned into Indira-Gandhi-Strasse, a big street with trolley tracks down the center," Schmidt recalled. "SC Dynamo was a kilometer away. Suddenly the squad car leaped ahead, passed the motorcycle and pulled across in front of me, blocking the way. I pulled to the curb, and here I was caught."
He remained in the Lada for a moment. Ahead of him, he saw two cars slide slowly out of a side street and park at the curb. Obviously, they had been waiting for him. In the mirror, he watched as the red Golf and another car rolled up behind him. Three green-uniformed VPs sprang out of the squad car, and all the other car doors flew open so their plainclothes occupants—Stasi agents all—could spill out onto the street. By the time Schmidt stepped out of his car, he counted no fewer than 13 men waiting to make a cordon around him. He pulled himself up to his full height and expanded his chest to its full width and watched with pleasure as the crowd of smaller men hesitated just a tick.
"All this for me?" he said lightly. "I must be incredibly important."
A VP snapped, "You will come with us!"