That's the kind of treatment to which Krabbe has become accustomed. Another unflattering story in YOU, the magazine section of Britain's Mail on Sunday, likened her to "a human BMW or Mercedes: a running machine in a blonde, beautiful body, except where there should be a heart there is a cold microchip; [she is] a sort of female Spock without the pointed ears."
Faced with these notices, Krabbe has been counseled not to fight. Krabbe and Hill sent Bild pictures of them noshing intimately at a sidewalk cafe in the hope that the newspaper would stop following them around. And then Hermens quickly cobbled together the deal with the notorious tabloid, which provides for Krabbe to sign her name to the occasional column. "We told Bild exactly why we made the deal," he says. "We don't want them to be too negative, and this assures that they won't—plus they pay. They said, 'Well, if Katrin commits a murder or something, we can hardly ignore it.' "
After the YOU piece appeared, Krabbe expressed her exasperation at the poor notices. "I don't know what people expect from me," she said. "If I'm going to produce top performances, I need peace. But how can I concentrate when I'm constantly pursued by photographers? Under the circumstances it only makes sense that I look irritated or refuse to sign autographs or seem cool."
Thus she has her sympathizers, among them Kluge, who has seen her under both systems. "Krabbe was normal and natural before the change," he says. "Now she has developed a defense mechanism. When she's friendly, it's only an act, because she's been bought. She doesn't even want to be a star. But because she wants the money, she's forced into being someone she doesn't want to be. I feel sorry for her, because I have a feeling they're going to destroy her."
Krabbe struggles all the more now because her instinct is to keep control of her life even as she sells off pieces of her privacy. Those close to her remark on how she winces at photographs showing her in full exertion, even when they depict her most glorious triumphs. She knows some English—her handlers believe its mastery is essential if she is to make the most of her marketing and promotional opportunities—but she's reluctant to speak it, again because it makes her seem vulnerable. She is most comfortable at fashion shoots, where everything is a pose and a smile can evanesce as soon as the shutter has opened and closed.
"If you could see her with her friends, you wouldn't consider her cold," says Hermens. "She's just trying to keep some protection, some privacy. In the old East Germany, running came first, and it didn't matter if you were cute or not. She thinks sponsors simply take the place of the state and that she doesn't have to do anything extra. But with every passing month she gets a better sense of how it works."
Early on a Friday morning in June, not yet nine o'clock, the streets of Neubrandenburg are full of people accustomed to getting along perfectly well without fanfare or garish display. Yet against the backdrop of one of the four gates to this medieval city, a huge inflatable shoe appears to have lost its way from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Beneath it is a red, black and white motor coach, whose sides are graced by the distinctive heraldry of Nike. K&K, the sporting-goods store Krabbe operates with Krentz, who seems to have forgiven her her gallivanting in Turkey, is celebrating its official opening.
From loudspeakers, the music of the Chi-Lites, the Isley Brothers and Gladys Knight pours forth, as does Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On, a title which is felicitous in its approximation of Just Do It, the day's operative phrase. People file into the store, examining the teal-and-fuchsia Lycra leg warmers and $130-$150 cross-training shoes as if they're museum pieces. Outside, from a window above the store's marquee, an old man, bleary eyed, gazes down at the scene as if just awakened from a long sleep.
Most of the stars of the Neubrandenburg club—including Breuer, Grau and Astrid Kumbernuss, once the world's top-ranked woman shot putter—have turned out to fete the couple, and each takes a turn signing Nike freebies. Even a few of the world-class athletes on hand for this afternoon's huge international meet linger outside the Nikemobile, offering up their John Hancocks. Among them is Michael Johnson of the United States, the world's best quarter-miler. He isn't ignored or unappreciated exactly—just hugely incongruous. Imagine, say, Ossi actor Armin Mueller-Stahl backslapping with regulars at the Friars Club.
And then comes Katrin. Dazzling as ever. But there's a harried distraction to her manner. She wades into the crowd of these people she grew up with, signing with alacrity but without so much as once pulling her head up to meet the eyes of her public. It is as if she knew that she would have her head down while performing this task, and that is why she is wearing the light-brown hair band that keeps every tawny strand swept back and in place. The scene is strangely quiet and unthreatening: Hereabouts, mobs still haven't figured out how to mill and surge—just as Krabbe hasn't yet figured out exactly what is expected of a celebrity.