THE TRAGEDY OF LUTZ EIGENDORF

A footballer, a defection, a seduction and a suspicious death 

The DFB-Pokal first round clash between Kaiserslautern and Dynamo Berlin brought back an uncomfortable moment in time. In 1979 these two sides were the two ends of the defection of the former DDR player Lutz Eigendorf. Four years later, Eigendorf controversially died. Was it an accident or a murder ordered by the Stasi and hidden as a car crash? 28 years after it, historians and investigators haven’t yet found the answer.

On March 19, 1979, Dynamo Berlin travelled for the first time to the other side of the Wall, for a friendly match against Kaiserslautern. Before the trip, for two days, players were lectured and indoctrinated. Dinamo Berlin, in fact, wasn’t a team like the others. As every other club with the Dynamo prefix, they were directly connected with the head of the Stasi, Erich Mielke. In 1968, he had told the Presidium of the Dynamo Sports Association that GDR clubs such as BFC Dynamo would have highlighted “even more clearly the superiority of our socialist order in the area of sport”. Other categories of clubs were the Vorwarts, overseen by the Ministry of Defence; works teams, like Chemies, Lokomotives or Stahls, denoting the chemical industry, the railways and the steel industry respectively. Then, there were old-fashioned clubs with no apparent affiliation, like FC Magdeburg or FC Carl Zeiss Jena.

Even though Dynamo Berlin lost 4-1, not a player was missing when the coach left back to Berlin at 6.15 on March 21. The last man to board was the 22-year-old Lutz Eigendorf. The night before he had gone down in the hall of the hotel Savoy where the teams stayed. He had met a single man, Rudi Merk, Kaiserslautern’s referee supervisor. They talked until the wee hours and, when Eigendorf came back to his room, Merk gave him his card.

Eigendorf was a talented midfielder who had joined the side when he was 13 and quickly climbed through the ranks. In 1978 he had debuted as an East Germany international scoring a brace in a 2-2 draw against Bulgaria.

Few hours after the departure, the Dynamo Berlin bus stopped in Giessen to let players spend their remaining foreign currency in jeans and discs. Eigendorf passed through the shopping zone until he saw what he was searching for: a taxi. He fell behind and ordered the driver to hit the gas giving him Merk’s calling card: he was the only man he knew in the whole West Germany.

He was no more a football player, he was a defector, a refugee. Almost certainly, his wasn’t a deliberate act. His wife, Gabriele, and the 2-year-old daughter Sandy, had no idea that Lutz wasn’t going to come back home.

Erich Mielke was livid. For him, football was more than just a game. In 1969 elite disciplines were divided into two spheres by the so-called Leistungssportbeschluß. The leitmotif was winning as many medals as possible. The first category qualified for special support, encompassed medal-intensive sports (swimming, rowing, track and fields); Sport 2, like tennis or waterpolo, received less support.

This categorisation was accompanied by a brand-new scouting system, the Standard Screening and Selection method. According to the program, talented children were trained in sports promising a large medal haul. So football lost potentially skilled players to privileged disciplines. As Lothar Kurbjuweit, at the time the Carl Zeiss Jena’s coach, put it out in a 1985 interview, “our tall footballers are all rowers”. However, football was inserted in the first group, and it was due principally to the backing of Mielke who considered Eigendorf’s defection as a betrayal. And nobody could have betrayed the Stasi with no consequences. According to a witness, Ulrich Hesse-Lichtemberger reports, Mielke yelled: “Eigendorf will never play in the Bundesliga”.

But he did. He played 61 matches for Kaiserslautern and Eintracht Braunschweig, but never fulfilled his potential in the Bundesliga. His defection intensified the level of supervision Stasi carried out. The Ministry of State security recruited undercover agents, known as Informelle Mitarbeiter (informal collaborators) among journalists and players to spy their colleagues and report undesirable behaviours. Their number increased after March 23, 1979.

At the same time, the Stasi launched the “Rose” operation. East Germany secret police sent out a series of agents, code-named “Romeos” whose mission was to seduce Gabriele. One of them, codenamed “Lothario”, recruited to start a love story with Gabriele Eigendorf, married her at the end of 1979 and adopted Sandy.

In West Germany, in the meantime, Eigendorf served a year-long suspension decided by the FIFA for deserting his club before debuting for Kaiserslautern. He had good money, found a new love and married again and met some old friends from the GDR like Karl-Heinz Felgner, former boxer and national middleweight champion. The two were frequent mates indulging in the East Berlin nightlife. Felgner told Eigendorf the GDR authorities had regarded him as an unwanted citizen and allowed him to leave the country. But it was by no means true. Felgner was a spy, the “IM Klaus Schlosser” since the mid 1970s and was even employed as a Romeo agent, but Gabriele didn’t fall in love with him so he was sent to the West to gain Eigendorf’s confidence. Felgner wrote extremely detailed reports about the midfielder: his friendships, his phone calls, the bars he went in, his roundabouts, and even the amount of coffees he drank and his preferred brand of milk.

In a 32-page document sent to section XII, a secret commando Stasi had formed as a death squad, discovered by Heribert Schwan, a Cologne journalist and filmmaker, who realized the documentary “Tod dem Verräter” (“Death of a traitor”), Eigendorf compared in a list of public enemies. Beside his name, the word “narcotic” and the indication “flashing”. Flashing was a common murded method used by the Stasi because a premedited assassination could make easily look like as an accident: it meant that a car hidden in the dark suddenly, and generally near a curve, turned the headlight on and blinded the oncoming driver who easily lost control.

At 11.08 pm on March 5, 1983, Eigendorf was rushing down a country road when, near a dangerous curve, his Alfa Romeo crashed against a tree. He died two days later because of head injuries. He was 26. The police determined a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) rating of 0.22. But his friends said he wasn’t a drinker.

The 32-page note was one of the few remaining data about Eigendorf case in the now accessible Stasi archives. “Those files have been destroyed” said Schwan in 2008. He couldn’t find any smoking gun, but he was persuaded anyway that Eigendorf was poisoned. According to the journalist, there’s enough circumstantial evidence that a Stasi agent had kidnapped Eigendorf and forced him to swallow a poisonous mix of alcohol and drugs. Then he was allowed to leave and “flashed” by a second agent. Schwan claimed that the two Stasi agents involved saw their bank accounts swelled by 2,300 marks after Eigendorf’s death.

Felgner was one of the supposedly involved agents. On February 9, 2010 he was on trial for a robbery in Dusseldorf. What proved newsworthy was a short part of his testimony: “I was supposed to kill Lutz Eigendorf” he said. “He played for Mielke's favourite club then bunked off illegally. I accepted the murder contract but didn't fulfil it”. It was the first time ever a man directly involved in the case admitted Stasi wanted Eigendorf dead. “I only accepted the murder contract so that they would allow my girlfriend to leave the GDR and come to the West with me” he added to the Dusseldorf judge admitting he never intended to execute the order and that he eventually didn't have to.

Schwan, instead, maintains his theory and repeatedly asked for an exhumation of the body to find traces of neurotoxins. Hubertus Knabe, the director of the Berlin-Hohenschonhausen Memorial, supported his position, as complicated the procedure may seem.

Schwan’s documentary left almost no doubt that Stasi killed Eigendorf, however unequivocal evidence is lacking and nobody has been charged yet with his assassination. 

But, as the Berlin state prosecutor put it, murder has no statute of limitations.

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