Espionage in a Divided Germany | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 17.09.2003
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Espionage in a Divided Germany

Espionage boomed during the Cold War. After all, two social systems -- capitalism and socialism -- were duking it out for supremacy. Having an edge on the enemy was a question of survival for both sides.


Cameras disguised as packs of cigarettes are not just the stuff of James Bond films

Just the name Glienicke Brücke evokes images of Berlin in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War -- and not only among Germans.

The bridge, on the southwest border to Berlin, was destroyed in World War II. East German officials later rebuilt the bridge in the Soviet-occupied sector of Germany, dubbing it the "Bridge of Unity."

But rather than serving as a unifying force, the bridge became a symbol of the east-west divide until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. After the Wall was built in 1961 only vehicles and personnel from the four Allied partners -- the Soviet Union, Britain, France and the United States -- were allowed to traverse the bridge-cum-border crossing. As such it became an important landmark in 20th century espionage.

The first spy exchange took place on the morning of February 10, 1962. The Americans handed over Rudolf Abel to the Soviet Union in return for captured U.S. pilot Francis Powers.

Under the alias Emil Goldfus, Abel had set up an extensive network of spies in the United States for the KGB, the Soviet security service, who engaged in military sabotage and acquired top secret U.S. nuclear information. Abel was exposed by a colleague who defected in 1957. Francis Powers had been caught in Soviet airspace trying to collect military intelligence.

For years, the public knew nothing about the Glienecke Bridge exchange. But today, visitors to the German History Museum in Bonn can learn about the enigmatic bridge’s secret history in an exhibit that runs through autumn. The bridge’s epic history is just one of several stations you can visit in "Duel in the Dark: Espionage in Divided Germany."

Seductive spies

The exhibition also provides a glimpse into the inner workings of East Germany’s feared Stasi intelligence agency, which called its agents "scouts for peace" or "Romeos." In reality, they played more nefarious roles that included the kidnapping of dissidents, the executions of deserters from within their own ranks and even the harboring of known West German terrorists in East Germany.

But one of their more famous acts was the "Romeo" project. During the 1970s, Stasi agents set out to recruit as spies secretaries working for prominent West German politicians. These "Romeos" managed to charm their way to considerable success. Within a period of just a few weeks in 1976, West German investigators discovered six secretaries who had confided in Stasi spies – some out of loneliness or love for the men, others out of naiveté and a few even out of pure adventurousness. Together, they imparted classified information on a grand scale in what was considered one of the greatest breeches of security in West Germany’s history.

The Stasi and the RAF

The exhibition also probes the extensive ties between the Stasi and West Germany’s most-feared terrorist group, the Red Army Faction.

In the two Germanies, the battle between the ideologies was particularly strange and insidious. The Red Army Faction, for example -- a group of self-proclaimed anti-imperialist revolutionaries bent on destroying West Germany -- was considered public enemy No. 1 for more than 20 years in the country. The RAF was behind a wave of terrorist attacks in autumn 1977 that traumatized the country with incidents that included the murders of Federal Prosecutor Siegfried Buback, banker Jürgen Ponto and German Employers Federation President Hanns-Martin Schleyer.

Kopfschmuck Mata Hari

Mata Hari

Although West German investigators arrested numerous RAF leaders in the early 1980s, many of the group's members remained at large. Ten were arrested in East Germany in the summer of 1990, shortly before the two Germanys were unified. The Stasi had provided them with new homes and identities, even as it continued to spy on them.

Yet despite the RAF's devotion to fighting against West Germany, the Stasi considered the group an extreme leftist danger that had to be kept from "spreading its leftist-terrorist ideas."

Hanns-Martin Schleyer

The Red Army Faction kidnapped and murdered German Employers federation President Hanns-Martin Schleyer in October 1977.

"Duel in the Dark" takes visitors even further back, to the World War I era, recalling the misadventures of Mata Hari (photo), the Dutch dancer who became one of modern history’s most notorious spies. "She was a born spy, catty, insincere and unscrupulous. She enticed the men with her body," the investigating judge declared at her trial for treason in Paris. The ostensible German spy was executed in October 1917.

These stations in the history of German espionage and others are on show at an exhibition entitled "Duel in the Dark: Espionage in Divided Germany," which runs until Oct. 5 at the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany) in Bonn. It is open Tuesday - Sunday, 9:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Entrance is free.

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