BERLIN (Reuters) – When Hans Schulze was imprisoned in Communist East Germany back in the 1980s, he never thought he’d ever return once he got out. But now he regularly unlocks his old cell door to show tourists what life was like in a jail run by the Stasi secret police.
A West German responsible for his chemical company’s business in the East, Schulze was on his way to a trade fair in the East German city of Leipzig in 1986 when he stopped at a motorway service station and met a woman by chance.
Schulze, now 66, was fascinated by the well-dressed woman and they began a relationship. The East-West dimension of their liaison gave Schulze a thrill, but to this day he does not know for sure whether she loved him or was just using him.
“I didn’t know that she was an unofficial Stasi informant,” said Schulze, who gives tours of Hohenschoenhausen prison, where he spent some of his 13 months behind bars three decades ago, in eastern Berlin.
“It was only later, when the accusation of spying was raised, that everything appeared in a different light.”
Such themes of temptation, duplicity and betrayal that marked Cold War-era espionage have come back into focus in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9 that brought about German reunification.
Schulze found out some time after he became romantically involved with the woman that her husband – from whom she was separated – worked for the Stasi, but he did not grasp the full extent until the media reported on her Stasi files in 2009.
Under its foreign intelligence chief Markus Wolf, the Stasi perfected the use of “Romeo spies” – agents who used their personal charms as well as their wiles to ensnare Western sources of valuable intelligence.
Unbeknown to Schulze, his lover had been tasked by the Stasi with picking up solo travelers and business people from the West. She told him she wanted to flee to the West and Schulze still isn’t sure whether that was her personal desire or whether the Stasi wanted her to continue working for them in the West.
Three years before the fall of the Wall, Schulze was arrested at the border as he tried to leave the East. A letter the woman had written about her husband’s work was found in his car, as was some money she wanted Schulze to take to the West.
Schulze was accused of spying and a day later his lover was arrested, though he is not sure what the charge against her was.
East German authorities ultimately withdrew accusations of spying, subversive human trafficking and betraying state secrets – which would have triggered a long prison term – and he was ultimately sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison for currency crimes and helping prepare an illegal border crossing.
“I can tell you it really hits you hard. You have to absorb it first,” he said of the emotional manipulation. “And I know now that they did it on purpose – that’s what I accuse them of.”
Schulze thinks his status as a West German meant he was probably treated better than others at Hohenschoenhausen, where physical violence was widely used in the 1950s before psychological interrogation methods took over.
He was transferred to another prison before his release in October 1987. His lover, who had spent her imprisonment working in the kitchen at Hohenschoenhausen, was freed a month later.
They saw each other in prison but Schulze said their relationship ended around the time they were released, and after reunification in 1990 she became a car saleswoman and hotel director in the West.
It was initially hard for Schulze to return to the prison following reunification but he wants to make sure that others – including children born long after East Germany collapsed – know what happened behind the prison’s walls.
He now tells his story to some of the more than 455,000 people who visit Hohenschoenhausen every year. Thousands of political prisoners were incarcerated in the prison, which has since been turned into a museum and memorial.
“That period of time still affects me to this day and that’s why I give tours here now, to pass on the message,” Schulze said.
Additional reporting by Inke Kappeler and Thomas Escritt; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Paul Carrel and Mark Heinrich