Schlegel and Götz: two East Berlin footballers who fled the Stasi

Schlegel and Götz: two East Berlin footballers who fled the Stasi

Dirk Schlegel and Falko Götz had been friends for years when they decided to risk it all. They had grown up together. Passionate about football, they lived on the same side of Berlin, a divided city. They lived near the wall which gave all their meaning to their city since its construction in 1961. During their childhood, everything was either good or bad, everything belonged either to the West or to the East, to imperialism capitalist or communist utopia. They both knew that western television, which they secretly watched at home, should not be talked about publicly.

Schlegel and Götz went through the same youth teams at BFC Dynamo [a Berlin club]. They were part of a sports organization closely supported by the Stasi, the allegedly brutal secret police of East Germany. Erich Mielke, the infamous Stasi leader, was the honorary president of CFB Dynamo.

"We both had problems with the authorities, with BFC Dynamo too, because our story was the same," said Schlegel. "He had family in West Germany and I had an aunt in England. This kind of thing was not good for our future. There was suspicion. But it was better for our friendship."

The two friends joined the strongest team in their country, despite difficult years in the youth academy. They say that they have often been deliberately neglected. And their parents were told that it would not be politically correct to see them rewarded.

But it was impossible to ignore their talent. As they grew older, the two players also began to make their appearance on the East German national youth teams. As athletes, they were among a very small number of citizens allowed to go abroad - always under close surveillance.

The Stasi monitored all aspects of daily life in East Germany, gathering information through a network of informants - and other informants who reported on the informants themselves. According to some estimates, it employed one in 63 East German. The structure was sophisticated, daring and all-powerful. The goal was to maintain order: to advance the Communist cause. Football also played its role.

Mielke believed that CFB Dynamo should become the best performing team in East Germany. They won the championship 10 times in a row, between 1979 and 1988, a record. The authorities have often been accused of giving them preferential treatment and, as Schlegel recalls, the supporters [of the other clubs] were extremely unhappy with their victories.

"When I started playing regularly on the first team of BFC Dynamo and on the international stage, I started to understand better what a career in football could mean," he explains.

"I had to ask myself where it should lead me. Do I want to play all the time in East Germany, with a club that doesn't offer the best treatment? I was wondering if , from one day to the next, you could say: 'Thank you, but now, because of what you are, football stops for you'? " remembers Götz.

"We discussed it," says Schlegel. "Could we do this great thing? It was not that easy. We had to think of the Stasi and the other members of our club. It was a big secret for me and Falko - no one else."

As East German champion, BFC Dynamo had to qualify for the European Cup each year. At the time, the competition took place in knockout matches, both at home and away, each round. The best feat of BFC Dynamo was reaching the quarterfinals in 1980, when they lost to the winner, Nottingham Forest.

In the first round, the Jeunesse Esch, champion of Luxembourg, won. It was an easy draw, which guaranteed another chance to escape if the opportunity did not arise. And they had a friend who they thought could help.

Their friend had recently been granted permission to settle in West Germany - there was an official process by which it was difficult, but not impossible, to emigrate legally - and he lived near the border with Luxembourg.

They had considered the possibility of bringing him to meet them, so that he would take them in his car. But the timing was bad. The friend could not help them - he still had not received his full identity papers and therefore could not cross the border to get to Luxembourg from his new residence in West Germany.

Privately, Götz spoke to his father about their intentions. All he said was that there was a possibility that he would leave for good - and soon. He was 21 years old at the time. Schlegel, then 22, said nothing to anyone, not even his parents.

The match took place in Esch-sur-Alzette, on the French border. Belgium was only 10 km to the west and West Germany, about a half hour drive, to the east. Götz and Schlegel were on the lookout, watching for the slightest moment of calm or confusion that could allow them to escape.

"It just wasn't possible," said Schlegel. "We had no chance. Wherever we went - at the hotel, at lunch, at training, at the stadium - we were all together, accompanied by many of our 'friends' from the Stasi. We even had there flew on Erich Mielke's private plane. It was no ordinary tourist trip. It was too dangerous for us. "

BFC Dynamo wins, 2-0, and players return to Berlin. Just days after discussing the possibility of never seeing him again, Götz's father welcomed his son home.

Security in Luxembourg was strict. Yugoslavia was a sister communist country, but not in the bloc of Eastern countries officially allied to the Soviet Union, such as East Germany.

"We didn't talk, we just looked each other in the eye, knowing it was the [right] moment. And we knew how dangerous it was going to be," said Schlegel.

Schlegel and Götz had still not spoken, while their teammates had finished the match. They said nothing about the risk they were taking, nothing about the seriousness of this crucial moment in their life.

"I remember we were angry about all the times we had tried to run away before, but we couldn't," said Götz. "The first day after training was too risky. The same thing the next morning after breakfast. There were too many people," he recalls.

"But now, in those few seconds, we were quite clear about what was going to happen. We had everything in our pockets. Papers, a little money. One point of view was enough. Now or never. "

The clock was ticking. The rest of the CFB Dynamo team wanted to spend an hour shopping. Götz and Schlegel followed the group. Their first stop was a nearby record store.

"We tried to stay very close to each other, says Götz. All the guys around us were buying used records for their families. The only special moment was when we saw the door. We saw that there was a way out of the store without anyone noticing. When the time was right, that’s when we said to ourselves, "Let's go."

"Once we got out, you weren't really thinking about anything," said Mr. Götz. "We were just thinking about running away. To get away from our team as quickly as possible. We ran for about five minutes , in the same direction. Then we saw a taxi. We borrowed it, but there was a panic because he didn't want to take us to the West German Embassy. "

"We had to call a second taxi. When I got there I gave the driver 10 Deutschmarks. He must have taken us about a kilometer - it probably would have been easier to walk there. We looked back to to see if we were followed. We couldn't see anyone. "

"We were incredibly nervous," Schlegel remembers. "It was just incredible what we had done. Suddenly we were discussing a plan to get us out of Yugoslavia and enter West Germany ..."

The plan began to take shape. First, they were taken to Zagreb, about four hours away. Embassy staff thought it best to get them out of the building - and out of Belgrade - as quickly as possible. The embassy would be the first place where the authorities would come to collect them.

"On the way, the deepest thought was only to survive this situation," says Götz. "You are afraid that something will happen (...). Because in something like that, when the end is not good, you will have a lot of problems. A lot of trouble," he adds.

In Zagreb, the plan has been finalized. At the West German consulate, Götz and Schlegel received false documents - two new West German identities to help them get out of Yugoslavia.

Staff told them that crossing the Yugoslav border with Austria would normally not be a problem. But things were a little different that week, they said, and it was not entirely safe. They decide to take the train, arguing that they were on vacation and had lost their passports and had to get new ones. They pretended to be on their way back to Munich.

The trick was to take the night train from Ljubljana. He would leave at midnight, and they should be as close as possible to the place of departure. It was now around 6 p.m. - they had been on the run for six hours.

We gave them food. The staff seemed relaxed. They were calm and confident about the plan's success. But the magnitude of the danger they faced was hard to ignore.

Back in Berlin, Götz's father watched the Partizan game against BFC Dynamo, which kicked off at 8 p.m. Her son was not in the starting 11. Strange - he was one of their best players. Schlegel had also disappeared, and neither of them was even on the bench. No explanation was given, but he knew. It must have happened. Did they manage to escape? Or were they caught?

Schlegel and Götz were taken to Ljubljana. They arrived at the station just before the departure of their train, tickets in hand, with new identities. Schlegel was called Norman Meier. Götz does not remember his borrowing identity. The train is gone. He still had about 30 kilometers to travel before arriving at the border and Yugoslav customs.

"Throughout the day, we lived in this state of high tension and worry. (…) We did not know what kind of danger we might face. But when we crossed the Austrian border, and the train hadn't stopped to bring [us] down, we knew we were safe, "said Götz.

In the newsstands around the station that morning their names were already in the press. The headlines said, "The players from East Germany are escaping to the West."

West German diplomatic personnel, who dealt with their false documents, had given instructions to Schlegel and Götz. They were to go to Giessen, where there was a refugee settlement.

"She was a little worried," he said. "It was a big surprise. She knew nothing about our plans, but she had heard of our escape through reports from West German television. I said that everything was fine, I was safe. We knew the Stasi would listen to us. "

"Falko and I decided that in all the interviews, we shouldn't talk about politics at all, no comments about the East, but only about football. It would not have been without danger, neither for us, nor for our families, "he says. "We knew that the Stasi also had a lot of people in the West. There were people watching us. Spies," he said.

Berger helped establish contacts with new clubs. They chose to sign for Bayer Leverkusen, but had to wait a year to make their debut - BFC Dynamo in Berlin did not want to recognize this change. The ban on playing - notified by Fifa - for 12 months was seen as a compromise to make people forget their illegal transfer.

At the time, Berger was director of the KSV Hessen Kassel, then in the West German second division. Before dying in 2010, at the age of 65, following a cancer, he wrote an autobiography in which he claimed to have been the target of an assassination in the 80s, that he had been poisoned by a Stasi agent.

Berger also repeatedly mentioned Lutz Eigendorf, a former CFB Dynamo player who defected to the west on the way home from a game at Kaiserslautern in 1979. He had been particularly vehement in his criticisms of East Germany after the defection.

In March 1983, eight months before the secret arrival of Schlegel and Götz in Munich, Eigendorf died in a car accident. Berger believed the accident was showing signs of a Stasi operation - where the driver of a vehicle would be blinded by bright light while driving at high speed. The tests showed the presence of alcohol in Eigendorf's blood, but his friends said that he had not drunk before getting into his car.

Götz and Schlegel had reached the Bundesliga. They trained with Leverkusen and got to know their new environment, not to mention their past as fugitives. They were watched very closely.

"[The Stasi] [watched us] at Leverkusen. [His agents] followed my parents all day. Not in secret, they wanted them to see them. There were interviews, interrogations, pressure. When I was able to access my files in the Stasi archives, made available after German reunification, I found things which I now prefer not to talk about, "said Götz.

"But for me, at the time, it was important not to say that everything was bad in East Germany, that the Communists were bad, not only because I knew what the reaction would be, but also because "That was not true," he adds. "My time at BFC Dynamo made me a very good player. I spent 12 years at the club. They helped me start a professional career. Our motivation was not politics. "

With the thaw of the Cold War in the late 1980s, the two players were able to maintain more regular contact with their families, while remaining in the service of their new club, after the expiration of their suspension. The fact that they appear every Saturday evening on the flagship programs of the Bundesliga - still watched in secret in so many homes in East Berlin - was a source of pride for their parents.

Schlegel left Leverkusen in 1985 and spent a season in Stuttgart before signing for Blau-Weiss Berlin in 1986. He now lived west of the city where he was born. But of course, he could never get to the other side.

Schlegel was in a hotel with his teammates when he heard the news [of the fall of the Berlin Wall]. He was just back from training when someone shouted in the bar, "Dirk, the wall fell."

He thought it was a joke - for at least five minutes he did not believe it, even after seeing the television footage, the thousands of smiling East Germans passing through checkpoints, barbed wire, searchlights and stunned customs officials.

"I said, 'Oh come on!' The wall fell and I was not in Berlin! We couldn't have been further in Germany either - we were playing an away match against Schalke, "said Schlegel.

"It was just a crazy experience for me; it was unthinkable. Watching it, I thought it might be a drama or a movie. It was something incredible. This weekend , I came back from the match in Schalke, and my family finally came to visit me with two friends. We had dinner at home, we talked, we drank, "recalls Schlegel.

It was not until December that Götz returned to eastern Berlin for the first time since he and Schlegel left with their teammates at BFC Dynamo in 1983. He returned home. And he realized that "nothing had changed", that "it was exactly the same thing".

He stayed with his family during the winter holidays. Her mother could finally pass on the few personal effects that she had been able to hide and keep for himself.

Thirty years later, Schlegel, 58, and Götz, 57, remained friends. They like to remember their daring exploits and talk to each other regularly, most often by phone, because Götz still lives on the other side of the country.

"I have been asked many times if I am ready to do this again. Absolutely! Without a doubt. I did it for my life. It was about preparing my future, shaping my life, choosing my own way, "says Schlegel.