* 1938 IN MAGDEBURG
COMPELLED TO RETURN
On July 21st, 1958, the hurdler Karin Richert and her trainer Karl-Heinz Balzer leave the GDR (German Democratic Republic) and head towards Ludwigshafen, in West Germany. They want to escape GDR control of their athletic and private lives; they aren’t allowed to choose which sports clubs to be a part of on their own, and their romantic relationship is rejected as immoral. After fleeing via West Berlin, they quickly find work and a new athletic home, but the GDR sports leadership is not willing to tolerate the “betrayal.”
After the Wende (›the Change,‹ i.e. 1989–1990), I of course had my Stasi files opened. I was really quite appalled that so many ›unofficial collaborators‹ were assigned to me. It was quite unbelievable.
The Stasi visit the pair, accompanied by Karin’s father, in order to push them to return. Such “repatriations,” in which the parents are forced to help “pick up” their children in the West, are a typical Stasi reaction to the escape of young athletes. After several “visits” from the Stasi over the course of two months, the couple gives up and returns to the GDR, where state propaganda presents them as repentant sinners. Karin Balzer, who has been married to her trainer since 1961, goes on to have a brilliant career and becomes a popular idol of the GDR “sporting nation.” Only after 1989 does she learn that she was under Stasi surveillance right up until the fall of the Wall.