Former East German Negotiator Wolfgang Vogel Dies | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.08.2008
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Former East German Negotiator Wolfgang Vogel Dies

Wolfgang Vogel, best known for his work trading the lives of captured spies and other political prisoners between the communist East and democratic West, has died at the age of 82.

Closeup photo of Wolfgang Vogel

Vogel sufferred a heart attack earlier this year

Wolfgang Vogel, the negotiator from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) died on Thursday at the age of 82 at his home in the town of Schliersee, south of Munich. His widow, Helga, said that Vogel had not been well after suffering a heart attack earlier in this year.

The former lawyer was best known for his work as a German to German negotiator. While working for the government of East Germany, he made the transfer of over 250,000 people out of the GDR possible. Vogel also arranged the exchange of almost 34,000 political prisoners between the East and West.

During the height of the Cold War in the late 50s, Vogel was the only point man between the West German government in Bonn and the communist GDR in East Berlin. At the time both sides claimed to have no official contact.

Negotiating for super powers

Black and white photo from 1978 of Wolfgang Vogel surronded by journalists.

Vogel oversaw the exchange of KGB spy Abel and American pilot Powers

Vogel gained a sense of acclaim, if not notoriety, for overseeing the exchange of KGB spy Rudolf J. Abel for Gary Powers in 1962. Powers was an American pilot shot down over the USSR while flying his U-2 spy plane in 1960.

He also oversaw the exchange of others involved in espionage or imprisoned in East Germany in exchange for those held in the west, including Jewish dissident Anatoly Scharansky, who spent nearly nine years in Soviet captivity on espionage charges. In another case, in 1985, 23 people held by East Germany on espionage charges were exchanged for four agents of the German Democratic Republic convicted by the U.S.

The Mailman

Close up of former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt smoking a cigarette.

Former Chancellor Schmidt once called Vogel 'our mail man'

All the deals were staged on the Glienicker Bridge between Potsdam and West Berlin. Ironically, at the time, the span was known as the ‘Bridge of Unity’, even though it only served the allies as a border crossing.

Vogel's reach inside the East German government was so extensive that when former chancellor Helmut Schmidt wanted to visit the country, it was Vogel who helped arrange it. Schmidt later dubbed Vogel “our mail man”.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Vogel admitted that he also worked for the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police. He was accused of blackmailing people who wanted to leave the GDR, and for selling real estate at well below market value. However, in 1998 he was cleared of those charges by the German Federal Supreme Court.

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