Return to Berlin
by Robert Downing
Any similarity to actual persons or events is coincidental.
“Yes, Ma’am, thank you for coming to look
at the home. It’s a beautiful home and priced right. I hope you are able to make a decision soon.”
“My husband and I will surely consider it
because it’s the nicest one we’ve seen.
We will try to call you tonight, Mr. Stevens,” replied Mrs Clarenden,
Link’s client for the past hour and a half.
Link began gathering up his open house propaganda and sales
contracts. Another Sunday spent
conducting an open house on one of his listings in an ever-tightening real
estate market. Having been a real estate
agent for the past four years had allowed Link to become established in the
community, but it still took every skill an agent could muster to get a sales
The last ten years had seen a tremendous
change in professions for Link. Leaving
the Air Force in 1967, Link had successfully earned his college degree from the
University of Houston, majoring in economics and Russian (a strange combination
in itself.) After a stint with Sears,
Roebuck, and Company, he branched out on his own and began dabbling in real
estate sales, eventually becoming a licensed real estate broker. The new profession had been kind, and he and
his family were living comfortably.
His only son, now ten years old, was the
joy of his life, but his wife had shocked him a couple of months ago when she
revealed she was pregnant again, much to their delight. They had wanted another child, but somehow
the magic combination had never worked…until now. They were both excited at the prospect of a
new baby in the house.
Bundling up the open house sign and
brochures, Link threw them into the back of his 1976 Lincoln Town Car and
headed home, looking forward to a quiet evening. After
parking his car in his garage, he entered the lower level of his home headed
toward the stairs to the upper level living area to greet his wife. As he passed through the family room to head
up the stairs, the hallway phone rang.
Link answered, “Hello?”
“Is this the home of Lincoln H. Stevens?”
the quiet voice asked.
“Yes, I am Link.”
“Tell me, Mr. Stevens, was your Air Force
Identification Number AF18164175?”
Well, yes, it was. Why do you
The voice continued, “And was your Air
Force Specialty Code 20351?”
“It was,” Link guardedly replied.
“Mr. Stevens, is this a secure phone line?”
“Of course, it is not! This is a residential line!” Link had not
heard the term “secure line” since he left the Air Force.
“Who is this?” Link continued, “and why
are you calling?”
“Mr. Stevens, because this is an unsecured
line, there is some information I cannot divulge to you at this time, but
please be aware that I represent the United States government, and due to
specific experiences you had while in the Air Force Security Service, primarily
in Berlin, we have an opportunity for you that we would like for you to
consider. You would be doing your
country a great service. I would like to
discuss it with you at your earliest possible convenient time.”
For a moment, Link was speechless, but his
mind raced with a blizzard of flashbacks: the secret surveillances, Russian
espionage, East German interrogation techniques, the hours of Russian language
intercepting, translating, and processing.
Looking back, he was proud of his service but did not want to repeat
it. After all, he now had a family, an
established job, and a new child on the way.
“Could we possibly meet tomorrow? It is very important,” the voice asked.
“Yes,” Link replied after a brief pause.
“Where could we meet that we would have a
bit of privacy?”
“How about Benham’s Restaurant on North
Center at noon,” suggested Link.
The voice said, “Fine, we’ll see you then,
and thank you, Mr. Stevens. Have a good
How will I know you?” Link questioned.
“That’s OK; we know you. We will meet at noon.” And the phone line went dead.
Although the evening went quietly as
planned, Link’s mind continued to race and question. What job could he possibly
do after ten years of military inactivity…especially now that he was living far
from a military base and thousands of miles from Berlin. He doubted there was a Russian speaker within
a 500-mile radius of his home. He
finally decided that the job must involve some sort of language translation
duties. But he went to sleep that night
and dreamed of his 1967 interrogation at the hands of the East Germans, the fake
intelligence drops at Breidenbach Platz, and the faceless man who picked up the
bogus activity reports and who eventually lost his life.
It was not uncommon for Link to lunch with
prospective clients during the week, so there was no surprise from his wife
when he told her we would be busy at lunch.
The morning went swiftly, and just before noon, he pulled into Brenham’s
parking lot. As he walked to the
entrance, no one approached him, and upon entering the waiting area, he saw no
one who seemed to be looking for him.
The hostess queried, “How many, please.”
“I think one more, but he isn’t here yet,
so I will wait,” and Link sat down.
Ten minutes passed. No one.
Link was about to decide the whole thing was a joke from someone when
the hostess approached him and asked, “Excuse me, are you Mr. Stevens?”
“Yes, I am.”
“The person you are waiting for is already
seated. Please follow me.”
The hostess led Link through the darkened
dining room of Brenham’s to a door which led to a private dining area for
smaller groups. In the room were about
six tables, but only one was occupied and that by a single person. The man sat quietly, pondering the menu as
Link sat down. He said only, “Good day,
The waitress approached, asked for drink
orders, and quietly left. The man asked
nonchalantly, “What’s good here?”
“This is the best steakhouse in town. You won’t go wrong with whatever you choose,”
“Good, I’m starving for a good
ribeye. Order what you want, Mr.
Stevens. The U.S. Government is buying
your lunch.” And he laughed
“You can’t beat a good ribeye, so I’ll
order what you’re ordering,” replied Link.
The waitress reappeared and in seconds took
their identical orders and just as quickly disappeared. The men faced each other. The man Link faced was tall, slender, and
slightly balding. Link guessed in his mid-forties. His complexion was rather pale, as if he
spent little time in the sun. His suit
was immaculately tailored, though, and Link knew he had not bought that suit
off the rack. He was wearing a
Longine-Wittnaur gold watch, and on his hand sparkled a sizeable diamond ring.
“Mr. Stevens, my name is Gerhardt
Schroeder…here’s my government identification…and I am here because the United
States government needs your help in a very particular sensitive matter. Please be aware of the following facts and
requirements before you agree to participate:
(1) It will require you to travel to Europe, in
particular, West Berlin. You will fly by
commercial jet, and the whole trip should take no more than four days.
(2) You will be traveling as a civilian, but under
the auspices of the United States Air Force Security Service.
(3) You will be travelling into East Berlin, but
with civilian identification, under the guise of visiting a German relative of
(4) Absolutely no one here at home must suspect
what you are doing. You will need to
create a reason to be out of town for four days. Upon return you must tell no one of your
actions. If you divulge what you have
accomplished, you will be in violation of your security oath, and you will go
to jail for a long time.
(5) Because of the nature of your task, you will
need to refresh your Top Secret Codeword clearance, but that is being
undertaken as we speak.
Stevens, the United States government is asking you to contribute to the
well-being and security of our country.
Will you help?”
a moment there was dead silence. Link
thought to himself…what will I tell my wife?
What reason can I use to disappear for four days? Plus, he had the nagging feeling that Mr.
Schroeder was not telling him everything he wished he could know. Link, however, under it all, was patriotic,
and the prospect of serving his country had strong appeal. In a few moments he said, “I’ll do it.”
“Excellent!” said Schroeder. “Can you meet me tomorrow at the Federal
Building on Center Street. Come to room
321. Shall we say noon, again?”
“Agreed,” replied Link, and with perfect
timing, their ribeyes magically appeared, and for the next thirty minutes they
appeared to be simply two old friends chatting amicably over a great lunch.
At 11:59 the next morning, Link walked into
the Federal Building and took the elevator to the third floor. Exiting the elevator, he looked for room 321,
but the signs showed only 310-320. About
that time, the door to room 315 (Federal Land Bureau) opened, and Link saw
there was activity inside, so he inquired, “Excuse me, I’m trying to find room
The secretary looked at him quizzically
and replied, “Go past 320 to the end of the hall, turn left, and you will find
“Thank you,” replied Link and began
walking. Arriving at 320, he noticed the
hallway darkened slightly, but he continued to the end, and then turned left. Walking another thirty feet or so, he came to
room 321. He was shocked to see the name
of the agency on the door, “National Security Agency.”
The NSA is America’s watchdog. Most of the overt and covert intelligence
gathered around the world eventually passes through NSA’s prying eyes for
interpretation and dissemination. The
NSA has agents around the world working under every branch of government and
every military branch as well. Link
remembered that even all the intelligence he helped gather in Berlin eventually
made it to NSA’s main headquarters in Fort Mead, Maryland.
Walking up to the receptionist, Link say,
“Good day, I’m Link Stevens, and I’m here to---”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Stevens, this way,
please.” Walking over to a small
machine, the receptionist said, “Please place your right hand over the darkened
glass; the machine will read your fingerprints.” Link did as ordered.
“Thank you, Mr. Stevens. Please take a seat for just a moment.”
In three minutes, Gerhardt Schroeder
appeared and beckoned Link into an office.
“You have been granted an extension of your
USAFSS security clearance. If you are
still willing to fulfill the mission, the next step is for you to swear the
Oath of Allegiance. Are you prepared to
“Please raise your right hand and place
your left on this Bible. Repeat after
Link repeated, “I, Lincoln H. Stevens, do solemnly swear to
uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, to defend my country
against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, and to maintain security of any
information I may gather which could aid any potential enemy of the United
States. I understand failure to honor
this oath will result in personal punishment or imprisonment. I of my own free will affirm this oath, so
help me, God.”
“Thank you, Link…may I call you Link? asked
Gerhardt. “And you may call me
Jerry…most of my friends do. Our paths
are going to be closely intertwined for the next few days. Please come into my office.”
Upon entering Schroeder’s office, the first
thing that Link noticed were large maps of East Germany and East/West Berlin
dominating an entire wall. The rest of
the office was relatively sparse. The
Berlin map looked especially familiar to Link since he had traveled many of the
roads, avenues, and back streets of the Island City. As always, Tempelhof Central Airport, home of the
6914th USAF Security Squadron was instantly noticeable with its
nearly mile long arc of a building dominating the map. Memories flooded Link as he reminisced of
midnight assignments, back alley rendezvouses, and near escapes.
“Tell me, Link, what can you tell me about
an airman named Gary Morton?” asked Schroeder.
“Gary Morton? Oh, yes, I knew Gary. He and I went through basic training at
Lackland together, then through Indiana University, on to Goodfellow AFB in San
Angelo, and then to Berlin. He was on my
Able Flight in Berlin and was probably my best friend. We spent a lot of time together on and off
duty until my wife arrived about six months after I was stationed there. Even then, he visited my wife’s and my
apartment occasionally. He was a great
guy and a good Russian linguist. He was
from Milwaukee. While we are both at
Indiana, my wife and I even traveled with him to Milwaukee to visit his
parents. He extended his duty at the
6914th and I came home after two years. Like a lot of military guys, we promised to
keep in touch, but I haven’t heard from him since.”
“Link, do you know where Gary is today?”
quietly asked Schroeder.
“As I said, I haven’t heard from him. No, I don’t.”
“Link, six months after you left, Morton
defected to the other side…to the Russians.”
The stunning announcement left Link
speechless for a few seconds.
“What?” he stammered, “That can’t
be…not Gary! He was as gung-ho as any guy I knew.”
Schroeder continued, “Shortly after you
left, Morton was transferred from intelligence gathering duty to the
Intelligence Analysis section on the sixth floor of HBE. It is not uncommon to place an airman into
analysis after two years or so out in the field. It generally relieves them of two years of
pressure with a less demanding duty.
Anyway, Morton seemed to adapt to his analysis duties smoothly and was
in line for another stripe on his arm when he simply disappeared. He was on a long change…you remember?...three
days off…and never returned to the base.
Our search people scoured West Berlin and his usual haunts to no avail. Finding no evidence of foul play, we assumed
that he had either been hijacked to the East Side or voluntarily went over the
wall, but until now, we’ve had no evidence to go on nor any knowledge of his
“Until now…” Link quietly said.
“Three weeks ago, Morton was located. He is in East Berlin, not far from
Schoenefeld Airport. Through a
messenger, he has transmitted his desire to return to the West and give himself
up. Apparently, life in the German
Democratic Republic is not the bed of roses he expected after the Russians
offered him money and luxury to defect.
He is in a nondescript apartment receiving a meager pension from the
state. My opinion is the Russkies and
Vopos drained Morton of any useful military intelligence he possessed and then
just stuck him into exile in his little apartment with a warning to stay put. He doesn’t speak German, so he can’t mingle,
and the Russians won’t come near him for fear of a KGB response.”
Schroeder continued, “So he wants to get
out of East Germany. We have contacted
him, but he is spooked to the point that he doesn’t trust anyone, be he German,
Russian, of even American. He fears that
if his intent to come back home gets out, he will be sent to Siberia or locked
up somewhere in limbo and die in exile. He
is demanding someone to contact him whom he trusts.”
“Have you found someone who can fill the
bill?” asked Link.
“I am looking at him,” pronounced
“Me? You want me to go see Gary?!”
“That’s exactly right.” Said Schroeder. “We
need someone to go assure Morton that the people you are recommending are
dependable, loyal, American agents, dedicated to his safe return to the United
States. Once he is assured by you, we
will take care of the details for slipping him back over the wall.”
“So what do you want me to do?”
“We will arrange a commercial flight for you
from here to Berlin. You will have all the necessary
identification papers along with the name of an East German woman who will pose
as your great aunt. This woman is living
in East Berlin not far from Morton. She
has been one of our agents for many years.
Should the East Germans attempt to verify your story, she has your name
in her family tree Bible as a grandchild of parents who migrated to the United
States fifty years ago. She will have a
photo of you as a five-year-old in her photo album.
“Once you arrive in West Berlin, you will
proceed to the Berlin Hilton where a room will be reserved in your name. You will have the evening to rest. The next morning you will take a taxi to
Checkpoint Charlie, be cleared to pass through the wall, and take an East
Berlin taxi to 27 Hellensdorferstrausse.
Her apartment is number 323. Make
sure you greet her enthusiastically; someone may have followed you to confirm
where you went, and it needs to appear to be a joyous reunion.
“After about two hours, you and she will
walk the short distance to Morton’s apartment.
He will be expecting you. You
have one task…simply assure him that this extraction operation is totally
legitimate, and he will be back in the USA very soon. You must be convincing, and, if you are still
friends, he should be convinced.
“Once you have completed your visit, you
will go back to your imitation great aunt’s apartment and say your goodbyes, catch
a taxi back to the checkpoint, re-inter the Western Sector through Checkpoint
Charlie, and hail a cab back to the Berlin Hilton. The next morning, you will fly out of Tegel
Airport and eleven hours later, you’ll be back home. By the way, you will be given adequate cash
in both East and West German Marks and good old American dollars to cover your
expenses. That’s it.”
After only a few seconds, Link asked,
“When does all this go down?”
“When can you go?” asked Schroeder.
Link responded, “Just by luck, there is a
real estate convention in Denver next week from Thursday through the
weekend. I have been considering
going. I am not obligated to report on
the convention once I return, so it would be relatively easy to make a slight
detour to Berlin.”
Schroeder responded enthusiastically,
“That’s perfect! I will have a package
delivered to your home tomorrow with airline tickets, all the necessary
documents, and cash. You just need to
get on the plane.”
“One more thing, Link,” Schroeder continued.
“When you get to the Berlin Hilton, you will get a phone call from our agent in
Berlin. Remember this callsign…his
identification…Foxbat12. He will review
your instruction with you and make sure everything is on schedule.”
The two men stood and faced each
other. With a simple handshake the plan was
settled. Schroeder closed with, “Once
more, the government of the United States wishes to thank you for this service
above and beyond the call of duty”
Link replied, “Tell me, Jerry. How can you have all the documentation of
family heritage, tickets, passports, visas, etc. ready in just a day? These things take
Schroeder replied, “Link, when you did your
service in Berlin, you performed your duties in exemplary fashion, readily
volunteering for activities which many other took a pass. You were quick to serve, and you served
well. We hoped that same willingness to
serve was alive and well. The
documentation has been ready for ten days.
We just needed to know when you could leave.”
The next evening over a quiet supper at
home, Link quietly stated, “Honey, remember that convention that’s in Denver
next week? I think I’ll be leaving Thursday
around noon and see what the meeting has to offer.”
Link, do you need any clothes done before you leave,” asked his wife.
I think I’m good.” Link told himself he
hadn’t actually lied to his wife about his plans; he had just let her assume
the details. “I should be back by
sometime Sunday night.”
“OK, Darling,” she replied. “Oh, by the way, you got a package
today. Looks like real estate papers or
something.” And the die was cast. This was not going to be an ordinary weekend
trip, for sure.
Friday, Day 2
The wheels of the big 747 squawked and
strained to gain revolutions as the plane settled on the runway at Tegel
International Airport, West Berlin. Link
had traveled to Denver Thursday, then caught a midnight non-stop flight to
Paris, then changed flights and continued to West Berlin. Although he left Denver around 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, with the time differential, it was already noon, Friday, Berlin time
when he walked into the terminal and traversed through customs.
It was still too early to check in to the
Berlin Hilton, so Link made sure he had some West German Marks handy for
payment and hailed a cab. Instead of
telling the driver to drive to the Hilton, he gave him another address…Massmannstrausse
4, Steglitz. The driver, recognizing the
address, began the short journey.
In a matter of a few minutes, he was in
front of the apartment building he and his wife had shared in 1965 and 1966. He was surprised how little the neighborhood
had changed, although the Lebensmittel (neighborhood grocery store) next to
their ground floor apartment had closed and the service station at the end of
the block was now an apartment building.
He wondered if their German friends, Josef and Helga Yakowitz, still
lived across the hall.
instructed his driver, “Warten Sie heir einen Moment.” (Wait here a minute.)
walked to the former Yakowitz’s door and knocked.
The door cracked slightly, “Ya?”
“Josef Yakowitz?” asked Link.
“Nein, nicht heir leben.”
“Vielen dank,” replied Link and walked back
to the taxi.
“Columbiadamm, Flughaven Tempelhof,” Link
instructed. The driver adeptly
maneuvered through the traffic on Hauptstrausse, turned onto Columbiadamm and
shortly began approaching the massive building that is Tempelhof, at one time
the second largest building in the world.
“Gehen sie nicht zum zivilen Flughafen,
aber weiter aft Columbiadann vorbei am militarischen Teil,” instructed Link. (
Do not go to the civilian airport, but continue on Columbiadamm past the
The driver did as told and Link was able to
see for the first time the Air Force base which was Tempelhof. He remembered where his room was which he
shared with three other airmen in the months before his wife arrived and the
months after his wife went home. Most
notably, however, he saw the entrance to the 6914th Security
Squadron, with its forest of antennas bristling from the sixth floor roof, and
he flashed back to the moments of boredom and sheer panic which that location
afforded. The 6914th was
still an active unit, so Link was able to see a couple of airmen making their
way up the stairs to the entrance. He longed to visit his old work rooms but
knew he could never get in without major clearances. He knew he had no “need to know” so a visit
was out of the question.
driver, Berlin Hilton, bitte.”
In a matter of minutes upon arrival at the Berlin
Hilton, he was whisked up to his room.
By this time, Link had been traveling and touring nearly 24 hours, and
suddenly the weariness of travel fell like a heavy weight. He collapse on the bed and drifted away.
He awoke to the sound of his bedside phone
ringing. For a moment he was confused
with his whereabouts, but clearing his head, he answered the phone “Hello?”
“Mr. Stevens?” asked a gruff voice.
is Mr. Stevens.”
“My name is Nikolas Krautman. I am Foxbat12. May I come up to your room?”
“Yes,” replied Link.
In five minutes there was a knock, and Link
opened the door and greeted his Berlin contact. Nikolas Krautman was a bear of a man, not
tall but very overweight. His earthen
brown suit was ill-fitting, and his tie was not pulled up nor his collar button
connected. He wore a soiled fedora that
had seen better days, and as he walked in, he wiped his forehead with a
well-used handkerchief. His facial
features were weather beaten, with a crooked mouth and oversized nose. In his mouth was a half-used cigarette. “You have whiskey? “were his first words.
Thinking that maybe his guest had already
had his share of whiskey for the day, Link replied, “Nope, no liquor; I just
got here. Have a seat.”
Krautman flopped down on the sofa which
groaned under his weight. Wiping his
forehead again, he stated simply, “I have your itinerary here.” He drew out a simple, single sheet of paper
with times, locations, and further information about his long-lost
great-aunt. “You will leave the hotel at
7:00 tomorrow morning and take a taxi to Checkpoint Charlie. Your documents are in order, but you need to
be very familiar with them in case you are questioned. The address you are going to is 27
Hellersdorfstrausse in the district of Falkenberg, in Northeast East
Berlin. The apartment number is 323, and
your “aunt’s” name is Frieda Klammer.
You must be familiar with the information I am giving you about her in case you are questioned.
will greet each other with a joyous reunion and emotion in case someone is
watching. You will stay a minimum of two
hours in her apartment, and then you two will decide to go for a walk. You will walk about three blocks to Marzahnerstrausse. Klammer knows where Morton’s apartment is, so
she will guide you there. Once there,
you and she will visit Morton where you will do your duty, which is to convince
Morton that his coming extraction back to the west is on the up and up.
“Once you are convinced that he is satisfied,
you and Klammer will walk back to her apartment where you will visit for a
short time and then leave. Take a taxi
back to Checkpoint Charlie and reverse your steps to get to the Berlin Hilton. You will be de-briefed tomorrow night and
Sunday morning you will fly back home.
“No, it is clear.”
“One more thing. While you are in East Berlin do not vacate
the taxi for any reason except at your destination. If you attempt to converse
with a stranger on the street and they determine you are an American, they will
assume you are rich and have money.
Petty crime is rampant, and they will take everything you have, even
some of your clothing.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“Good luck on your mission tomorrow. Remember, stay alert and focused, and you’ll
get back to the west in one piece.”
Link and Krautman stood up and looked at
each other one more time, shook hands, and Krautman slipped out the door,
leaving Link alone with his thoughts.
“Not much sleeping tonight,” he thought to
himself as he began to review his instructions and the brief information on his
long-lost “great-aunt Frieda."
Saturday, Day 3
It was a typically chilly November morning
as Link exited the Hilton and waved down a taxi. The sun had not yet risen, and
the air was damp with a threat of rain.
Heavy clouds were overhead and seemed to predict an ominous day. The Mercedes 200 Diesel taxi clattered up to
the curb and Link slid into the back seat.
“Checkpoint Charlie, bitte,” Link instructed
and the driver soundlessly shifted into low gear and moved away from the
“Bist du ein Amerikanner?” asked the driver
as he looked into the rear view mirror.
Startled for a moment, Link replied, “Yes,
how did you know?”
“You have an American haircut and your
clothes are not German. Now I can
practice my English. Are you going into
“Yes, I am visiting an old relative,”
“Be very careful, my friend. The Vopos do not laugh very much,” warned the
“I will do that. My visit will be very short. I will be returning this evening..”
It was only a matter of a few blocks from
the Berlin Hilton on Mohrenstrausse to Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrausse,
but in that six or seven blocks, one appeared to travel back in time
approximately 25 years to the end of World War II. The closer one came to the
vicinity of the ignominious wall, the more decrepit and depressing the
buildings became. Buildings could be
seen which had been destroyed due to Allied bombing or Russian invasion and had
never been reclaimed, but rather stood as stark monuments to the destruction of
The taxi stopped at the intersection of
Zimmerstrausse and Friedrichstrausse, with Checkpoint Charlie about half a
block down the street. “This is as far
as I can go, American,” spoke the driver.
“I cannot approach the checkpoint.
The guards get very nervous.”
“I understand,” Link replied. “How much do I owe you?”
“Fifteen Marks or five American dollars.”
Link knew that five dollars American was too
much, but he paid him anyway.
“Thank you, my friend,” Link responded.
“Auf wiedersehen, Amerikaner.” And with that, the driver clattered away, and
Link approached the American side of Checkpoint Charlie.
Going through any of the Berlin checkpoints
during the height of the Cold War was always a bit of a gamble. Going from west to east, one had to pass
through the Allied checkpoint first, manned by U.S. Army M.P.s (military police.) Travel papers and passports and visas were
meticulously checked and had to be in perfect order. For a German or an American, the process was
relative painless; the challenge began when one walked the fifty yards or so
and met the East German/Russian counterparts, who were probably suspicious of
anyone who even wanted to visit East Berlin.
West Berlin by the seventies had miraculously rebuilt with the help of
the Allied nations, but East Berlin and East Germany had no generous
benefactors. The Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics (USSR…or more simply, Russia) considered East Germany a
vanquished enemy and an occupied state to keep under close control. As a result, the cities of East Germany
languished with the ravages of war being very slow to remove. East Berlin reflected the condition, and its
buildings and streets were in severe need of repair and refurbishing. There was a depressing grayness to the area,
and the people reflected the state of mild depression.
The Vopos on the east side of Checkpoint
Charlie reflected this grim humorlessness, and the level of their questioning
of visitors and documentation was legendary.
Any refusal to answer questions or errors in documentation resulted in a
quick refusal to allow entrance into East Berlin, and any semblance of
suspicious behavior would require the traveler being turned over to the dreaded
investigators whose job was to get the traveler to admit to some imagined
Approaching the white checkpoint building,
the young MP greeted Link, ”Morning, Sir, papers, please.”
Link handed over his passport.
“What is the purpose of your visit to East
Berlin, Sir?” asked the MP.
“I have a great aunt I have never met whom I
wish to visit.”
“What is her name? Do you have her address? How long will you be in the east?”
“Frieda Klammer; here is her address. I will be returning this evening.”
The MP wrote the information onto his
records tablet and stated, “Thank you, Mr. Stevens. Have a nice visit, but please be
careful. Be sure to follow any
instructions given by our friends on the other side.”
Link retrieved his passport and began
walking the fifty yards or so toward the east checkpoint. Everything appeared as it was the last time
he was in this area ten years before.
The mine fields, the anti-tank obstacles, the watchtowers with guards
holding automatic weapons all looked familiar.
What did look different was the wall itself.
When the wall was originally built in 1961,
it was hurriedly constructed with large slabs of concrete slopped together
unskillfully with tons of mortar. On top
of the wall were rolls of concertina barbed wire to deter any climbers of the
wall. There was no attempt to make the
wall esthetically pleasing; speed of construction was the main criteria. In the last ten years however, the East
Germans had tried to make the wall seem less ominous and removed the ugly,
original wall and replaced it with twelve foot tall smoothly-finished slabs of
concrete topped with a curved cap which made it difficult for anyone to grasp
to climb over. The concertina wire and
broken glass were gone. The original
wall was low enough that the guards could see over, and anyone approaching the
wall even from the west side was in danger of a guard firing
on them if the
guard felt threatened. The twelve-foot
wall, however, blocked the view of the west side of the wall from the guards,
and in the ensuing years, the west side of the wall became a miles-long
expression of West German frustration.
Graffiti and artwork made the wall become a canvass of colorful protest
to the wall, to East German suppression of its people, and to Russian
Link approached the east checkpoint. “Guten tag. Papiere, bitte,” the guard spoke
with a business voice.
Link handed over his documentation. The guard stared at the passport and looked
at Link. “Amerikaner?”
“Ein moment, bitte,” and the guard turned to
another soldier behind him. The second
soldier, apparently an officer, looked over the papers and looked at Link. He walked over to Link.
The officer, speaking English, asked, “What
is the purpose of your visit to the German Democratic Republic?
Link repeated his story the second time.
“And your aunt has always lived in the GDR?”
questioned the officer.
“Yes, I have never met her, but her
children migrated to the United States in the early thirties. I wanted to meet her and give her a family
lineage of the last fifty years. Most of
her grandchildren and great-grandchildren she has never met.
“Her name and address, please,” requested
the officer. “And how long will you stay in Berlin?”
After Link gave his information, the
officer turned away and walked into another small room in the rear of the
guardhouse. Eventually, he returned and
stated simply, “Welcome to the German Democratic Republic, Mr. Stevens. Please obey our laws.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Link gathered
his passport and walked out to the curb of Friedrichstrausse. Parked there was a taxi, a ragged, old Trabant
automobile, dingy gray in color. Trabants
were East Germany’s answer to the VW, but rather than being cheap and easy to
maintain, they were cheap, expensive to maintain, and prone to rust. But they were all the common East German
could afford. Link walked to the
passenger door of the two-door auto and addressed the man inside who was
smoking a cigar and reading the East Berlin propaganda paper.
“Sind sie frei?” asked Link.
“Ya, wohen wilst du gehen?”
“27 Hellensdorferstrausse in Falkenberg..”
“OK,” responded the driver, and they
In a few blocks they were on
Grunerstrausse. As they left the central
part of East Berlin, away from the GDR government buildings, the scenery seemed
to grow even more bland as more and more apartment buildings appeared. Making a right turn on to
Falkenbergerstrausse, the driver took a long drag on his cigar and threw the
very short remains out the window. He
laughed, “Rauchen verboten, ha!”
Apparently he was not supposed to be smoking. After
exiting Falkenbergerstrausse to a short stint on Dorfstrausse,
Hellersdorferstrausse came into view, and in two blocks, the driver eased to
the curb and said, “27 Hellensdorferstrausse hier.”
“Wieviel geld?” asked Link. (How much do I
GDR Marks or $10 Amerikaner.”
“American dollars?” Link did not know that dollars were the black
market currency of choice.
Exiting the old Trabant, Link surveyed his
surroundings. 27 Hellensdorferstrausse
was the typical apartment complex found in every German city, east or
west. Built pre-World War II, five to six stories tall, no elevators, rectangular styled with a courtyard in the middle
so that every apartment had windows to the outside. The hallways were usually dark passageways,
but most of the construction was stone, brick and mortar, even the interior
walls, so that seldom did you hear your neighbor. Knowing that apartment 323
would be on the third floor, Link found the stairway and began the three-floor
trek. Walking about fifty feet down the
third-floor hall, Link came to apartment 323.
He took a deep breath…and knocked.
There was a shuffling inside, and then the
door cracked open just enough for the occupant to peer out while leaving the
safety chain attached. “Ja?” the frail
voice from the interior spoke.
“Frau Klammer, Ich bin Link Stevens aus
Amerika,” replied Link.
“Oh, mein Gott! Bist du est wirklick? Komm herein!
Komm herein!” And she joyously
threw open the door and with arms outstretched, enthusiastically grabbed Link
in a bearhug. “Endlich sehe ich einen
Teil meiner schoenen amerikanischen Familie!”
(Finally, I get to see part of my beautiful American family!) She drew him excitedly into her living room
and closed the door.
Glancing around, Link saw what he expected:
a standard one bedroom apartment, sparsely furnished. The single front room served as living room,
kitchen and dining area. The “kitchen”
consisted of simply a portion of a corner in which was a sink with an electric
2-litre water heater above the faucet, a 2-burner hot plate, and a small
undercounter refrigerator. Adjacent was
a dining table with two chairs. Across
in the other nearby corner was the oil heater whose duty was to warm the entire
apartment. The living area consisted of a sofa and a single chair. Next to the sofa stood a simple floor lamp,
and across on the other wall was a black and white television, currently
bringing the latest GDR news for its loyal citizens. On the wall was a dominant photo of Secretary
Erich Honecker, the leader of the German Socialist Unity Party and as such,
East Germany’s leader. Through a door
Link could see the single bedroom with its clothes wardrobe and small bathroom
tucked in a corner. All basic accommodations
for the common citizenry of the GDR.
Link also took notice of his
“great-aunt.” A small, frail woman in
her mid-sixties, Link surmised. she walked with a slight stoop of the back with
the aid of a cane. Her face showed the
effects of years of hard work, but Link also sensed a certain glint in her eyes
which gave him clue that her mind was still sharp. His observations were borne out with her next
“Good day, Mr. Stevens. I hope our
greetings outside convinced any curious onlookers that we were long-lost family
members being reunited. You must remember this:
outside this apartment I speak only German. No one knows I have a little
fluency in English, and I need to keep it that way. So, if you inadvertently
speak to me in English on the street, I will look at you stupidly
and await a translation. Secondly, while
on the street, if I give you instructions to turn left or turn right, or say
something, you must do exactly as I instruct.
Our lives may depend on it. Do you understand?” Her eyes seemed to be more piercing than
before as she awaited his response.
“Yes, of course. I will do whatever you
request.” Link responded.
“Good! Would you like some tea? We have a
little time to visit. Tell me, what do you do for work in the United States? Do
you have a family?
“I have a wife, a ten-year-old son,
and my wife is expecting our second child. I sell real estate.”
“Real…estate…what’s that?” she asked
“Houses, homes…you know, where people live.
The property they own. Sometimes families will sell one property and buy
another. I just help them get the job
“How interesting!” she opined. “Here we are born, we live, and we die in the
same location. There is no place to go. The government will not allow moving
“Tell me about yourself, Frau Klammer,”
Link questioned. “How has your life been?”
“Under the circumstances, the less you know
about me, the better, but I will tell you a few facts. I am what is left of the
Great War Generation. I was a teenager
when Hitler came to power in 1933, and, like many youths, I was swept away by
the power of his speeches. When war broke out in 1939, I felt it was Germany’s
destiny to rule Europe. It was in an Allied bombing raid over Dresden that my
parents were killed, and I was left alone. By that time, I was serving as a
nurse in the medical corps and had not seen my parents for nearly two years. When
I received the news of their deaths, I hardly had time to grieve because the
war had already started to go badly for Germany, and we were awash with injured
"By 1944 Germans had begun to learn of the
Jewish death camps, and we began to realize the folly of Hitler’s dream. But
when the hated Russians crossed our borders and approached Berlin, I went to
the front lines and fought like any soldier. Why I am still alive today I do
not understand. What bothers me most today is I must show respect and deference
to the hated Russians because we are the vanquished, and, as we all know, to
the victors go the spoils.”
There was silence as the two acquaintances
sipped their tea and nibbled on their biscuits with jam. Both seemed lost in thought as they
contemplated their partner. Frau Klammer
viewed her visitor as an innocent participant unused to hardship nor
authoritarian rule, and Link sat quietly, wanting so desperately to hear of her
experiences during the war and during the Russian occupation., but knowing that
to relive such painful memories could only bring heartache.
As their visit approached the second hour,
Frau Klammer said quietly, “We must go.
It is time.”
Bundling up against the chilly Berlin
November air, the twosome made their way down the two flights of stairs and
exited into the gray overcast morning.
The trees had long shed their summer foliage, and the monotony of the
European winter had already set it.
There was a skiff of light snow along the cobblestone walkway as they
wordlessly strolled toward Morton’s nearby apartment. Crossing
Marzahnerstrausse, they walked another two blocks to
Birknersfelderstrausse. It was another
two blocks beyond that they came to 27 Wittstockstrausse.
Link noticed that this area was even more
modest than Frau Klammer’s neighborhood. The streets were narrow two-lane
affairs which appeared as canyons between the tall six-story apartment
buildings. There were no cars in sight
since automobiles were a rare luxury in East Germany.
“He is in apartment 635 on the top floor,”
said Frau Klammer as they entered the first dark hallway. A short distance down
the hall, the stairs wound their circular climb to the sixth floor. On each
floor as they ascended, a single wall lamp with a single dimly burning bulb
barely marked their way. By the time the
sixth floor was reached, Frau Klammer was laboring with short strained
breaths. “This is very hard for an old
woman; your man should have been more considerate,” she said, half-jokingly.
Reaching the door of 635, Link tapped on
the worn paint. There was a shuffle, and
then the door opened. Link was shocked
by what he saw. The man standing before
him was gaunt with hollow cheeks and thin arms.
He obviously spent little time in the sun by the evidence of his pale
complexion. His simple cotton shirt and
sweater fit loosely, and for a brief moment there was confusion in his eyes as
he looked at his visitors. Suddenly his
eyes widened, and he quietly exclaimed, “My God!” He beckoned his visitors to come inside.
With a voice trembling with emotion he
spoke, “Link, it is really you?”
“Yep, Gary, it’s me! In the flesh!” Link
attempted to show enthusiasm to his old friend.
Instead of shaking his visitor’s hand, Gary
threw his arms around Link in a brotherly embrace and began to sob, “I was so
afraid that this day would never come! I
have been promised things before!” And
for a few moments there was only the sound of muffled weeping. Link held his
former partner and let the emotion expend itself.
Finally, after regaining his composure,
Morton gestured, “Come! Sit!” and pointed to a couple of worn chairs.
Link decided to ask the question which had
dogged him ever since he first heard of Morton’s defection, “Tell me, Gary,
what happened? How did you wind up in this situation?”
The directness of the question seemed to
snap Morton back to attention, and he told his story.
“You and I were pretty good buddies,
Link. After you left, I was a little
lonely for good friends, One night as I was bar-hopping around Kurfurstendamm,
I met a German. He could speak perfect
English. He bought me a few beers, and
we just seemed to hit it off. I told him
I was military, but he laughed and said he could tell that by my haircut. Anyway, we visited for awhile and parted with
a promise to meet again the next weekend.
We did so, and this time he brough a girl for me to meet. You remember I was never very smooth with
girls. Anyway, this girl laughed at my
stupid jokes and seemed to like everything I liked…and I fell like a ton of
“We met again…and again…and again. I lost track of my German male friend who had
introduced us, but I didn’t care. I was
happy with her. We became more involve to the point that there were some
occasions when I was late getting back to the base, and you know how security
people feel about personnel who are not where they should be. I was given several warnings, and finally the
commanding officer called me in and took away my sergeant’s stripe and busted
me down a grade. Instead of
straightening up, I got mad, and after the night shift was over, I left the
base and found my lady and told her of my demotion.
“I was shocked by what she did. She went to her phone, made a call, and in
ten minutes my German friend walked in the door. The two of them stood in front of me and
revealed that they were Russian agents, and if I did not cooperate, they would
reveal to the security people that I had been cavorting with the enemy. That would result, they said, in my instant
court-martial and a possible death sentence.
My only option was to defect to the east. Their government, they
promised, would pay me handsomely for my security service knowledge, give me a
place to live and a lifetime pension to allow me to live comfortably the rest
of my life. They made it clear that the
dreary descriptions of the East given by the Western Allies was simply
propaganda, and I would enjoy my stay in the German Democratic Republic.
“I was scared out of my wits…although I
think I was more scared of what the Air Force would do to me than what the
Russians would do. I was still angry at my commander, and in a moment of
insanity, I said OK I will go to the other side. In a matter of hours, they had
slipped me through a breach in the wall.
I was blindfolded during the operation and to this day have no idea where
the wall breach was. For a few weeks
after I went over the wall, they wined and dined me, constantly peppering me
with questions about the mission of the 6914th and other Security
Service sites. I had been placed in a luxury apartment, but in a matter of
months, I was suddenly moved here, and here is where I have been for nearly ten
years. I don’t go anywhere. Neither the Germans
nor the Russians will talk to me. I know I will see prison when I get back
home…but at least I will be in the United States."
Link sat for a few moments absorbing what
he had just heard, and then spoke. “Gary, my mission here is simply to assure
you that the people who will contact you and arrange your transfer are, in
fact, representatives of the United States.
I was told you were being hesitant about the transfer and needed
confirmation. I am that
confirmation. We will get you out.”
“You are the one person I believe. What do I do?” Morton quietly asked.
“Gary, I am not in the military and haven’t
been for nearly ten years. There are
others much more skilled than I who will take care of you. You simply need to be able to move on a
moment’s notice and follow instructions to the letter.
“You’re not in intelligence anymore, Link?”
“Nope. Got out when my hitch was up.”
I expected you to be a ‘lifer’ for sure!”
“Well,” laughed Link, “I did consider it,
but life takes you different roads sometimes.”
“I guess I am living proof of that,”
ruefully observed Morton.
“Just remember, sometime soon you will be
contacted. Be ready.”
During this conversation, Frau Klammer had
sat quietly watching the two comrades tell their stories. Finally, she stood and spoke. “We must leave. Mr. Stevens, you alone must leave first. At the entrance to the apartments you will
find a taxi waiting…a green Trabant. The
driver is an associate, and he will get you back to Checkpoint Charlie. Do as he says. I will stay here five more
minutes and then walk home.”
The two old friends stood and faced each
other. They silently shook hands, and
then Link said, “I will see you in the states. Take care of yourself.”
“God bless you, Old Buddy!” Morton replied
with a cracking voice.
Link walked down the five flights of stairs
with a mind racing with scenarios involving Morton’s extraction to the
west. How? When?
Who? But he knew the operation
would be in the hands of professionals far more skilled than he, and he tried
to comfort himself that Morton would be in good company. He heard the clatter of the Trabant’s engine
before he saw it.
“Hallo, steig ein,” (Get in.) the driver said simply as Link
approached. The door of the old Trabant
creaked as Link swung it open and slid onto the plain, well-work seat. With a lurch the car leapt forward and into
the darkening evening. Dusk comes early
in Berlin due to its far-north latitude, and the promise of another chilly,
damp evening was already being fulfilled.
The tiny heater in the old car offered little comfort.
The driver suddenly spoke, “Herr Stevens,
there has been a change of plans. The
border guards are waiting for you to arrive at the checkpoint so that you may
be taken in for questioning. As a
result, we will have to dispose of you in a different way; you will be taken
through one of our secret tunnels we have available for when emergencies such
as this arise. Of course, it is your
choice. If you wish to take your chances at the border, you may do so, but
please be aware the interrogation techniques of the Vopos do not conform to the
requirements of the Geneva Convention.”
It did not take Link long to respond, “I
have had previous experiences with our friends, the interrogators; I do not
wish to renew my friendship with them. I
am at your mercy.”
driver continued, “In a few minutes as we drive on Berlinner Chaussee, I am
going to turn quickly onto a side street and continue for about two
blocks. As we approach a particularly
dark length of the street, I will come to a stop next to another car. At that instant, you are to exit this car and
enter the other car as quickly as you can.
While you are doing so, a person in the other car will exit and take
your place in my car. They are expecting
to see a passenger in my car, and the gentleman has a resemblance to you. It will not become obvious he is not you
until we approach the checkpoint and he exits the car. He is an East German with papers, so he will
not be bothered. Do you understand these instructions?”
“They are clear,” Link said simply.
Wordlessly, the two men continued the drive
along the chaussee. Abruptly, in what
appeared to be an industrial area, the driver quickly turned left into a narrow
street. There seemed to be not a parked
car in sight as Link strained to see in the increasing darkness. However, two blocks further, next to a large
tree adjacent to the road, sat a car, another well-worn Trabant. Link thought to himself, “Don’t these people
have any decent cars?” As the driver
approached the car, he suddenly slammed on his brakes and stopped next to the
parked Trabant. The driver said simply,
“Good luck, my friend.” Link jerked the door handle, threw open the door and
took four steps quickly to the other car, just as the passenger in the other
car did the same. In ten seconds, the
trade was complete, and Link’s first taxi rattled off toward the checkpoint.
His new driver spoke in surprisingly good
English, “Good evening, Herr Stevens. We
have an exciting thirty minutes ahead of us.
I hope you are ready.”
“I am ready,” Link replied, although he
could feel his heart beginning to pick up the pace of his heartbeats.
“When we get to our destination, two men
will assist you as you traverse under the wall in our tunnel. For the sake of security, you will forgive me
if I do not tell you exactly where we will be; the less you know the
better. But when you exit the tunnel on
the western side, you will be met by two men who will escort you back to your
hotel. At which point we shall all live
happily ever after…at least we hope so.”
He finished with a slight chuckle.
Driving along Jacques Duclos Strausse, the
driver continued along darkened streets, finally crossing the River Spree and
approaching Puschkin Allee. Crossing
Puschkin Allee, the riders entered Elsenschtrausse. Link knew he was close to the wall, but in
the darkness, keeping his bearings was becoming more difficult. Approaching the wall also meant that the
buildings were becoming more war-damaged appearing and deserted. Suddenly, as they drove slowly by an
abandoned-looking building, Link saw a garage door roll up. The driver adeptly swung the Trabant into the
garage, and just as quickly the garage door rolled back down. Two flashlight beams appeared, and the driver
said, “Herr Stevens, “This is far as I go.
The two men will escort you to the tunnel. Remember… ‘Freiheit fur ganz Deutschland!’
(Freedom for all of Germany.) Goodbye.”
And with a handshake, Link stepped out of the car.
The two men were dressed all in black with
black toboggan caps and black gloves.
One said, “”Follow, bitte,” and the two men began walking deeper into
the building. Link
followed, noticing that the building was becoming more in disrepair the farther
they walked. As they approached an empty
dark room, the men stopped and aimed their flashlights at the floor. Pulling back a worn section of carpet
revealed a trap door with a heavy lock.
One of the men used a key from his pocket to open the lock, and both men
then grabbed the handle and strained as they lifted the heavy door. In the opening was a stairway.
One of the men in black pointed at the
other and said, “Helmut will lead, you follow, I in back. We crawl, OK?" With an OK from Link, Helmut stepped into
the opening. Taking only five steps down
to the tunnel floor, he went to his hands and knees and motioned to Link to do
the same. Link followed suit, and
momentarily his second benefactor brought up the rear. The tunnel was very primitive with a rough
floor and rough-hewn walls and ceiling.
There was no lighting save the two flashlights which shakily showed the
pathway. The floor of the tunnel was
damp, and he knew if he made in back to the Hilton, he would be a miserable
sight when he walked in the door. The
three men crawled and grunted for fifteen minutes.
Suddenly Helmut stopped and whispered, “We
under wall. Guards hear noises. Must be
silent.” Link nodded silently, and they
continued. Crawling and straining for another
fifteen minutes, Link began to notice unusual sensations…very slight vibrations
in the floor and a faint far-distant sound.
But before he could begin to worry, Helmut stopped and pointed his
flashlight upward. There was a
door. He tapped twice. The trapdoor creaked open, and another
flashlight flooded the space. The three
men crawled out of the tunnel to be greeted by two more men, identically
dressed in black. Helmut and his partner
said simply to the two greeters, “Hier ist Stevens. Keine Probleme,” (Here is Stevens. We had no
problems.) and they turned and disappeared back into the tunnel.
“Well, Mr. Stevens, you’ve had a decidedly
exciting day, I’m sure! You are probably
ready to get back to your hotel and relax for the evening!” one of the men said
with a distinctly British accent.
With a sigh, Link replied, “I am truly
“We have to be devious for a few more
minutes until we get a few blocks away from the wall. Our friends on the other side watch our side
rather closely and are suspicious of autos moving around in the dark. They begin to snoop around if they get
nervous. We’ve lost a few tunnels that
way. We have an auto about fifty meters
away, beautifully painted in a very flat non-reflecting gray, that we will
enter and make our very silent getaway.
Are you ready?”
“Let’s go,” said Link. At least now we are walking upright he
thought to himself.
The three men loaded into the English Ford Cortina
which appeared at this time like a Rolls-Royce compared to the Trabants he had
been in. The engine silently came to
life and in a matter of four blocks or so, they entered Sonnen-Allee, and
turned toward the Hilton Hotel, only ten blocks or so away. It was noteworthy to Link that they passed
close to Checkpoint Charlie, and he wondered how the other side would feel when
they realized they had let one slip through their fingers. He also realized that the vibrations and
slight sounds he had heard in the middle of the tunnel was simply the
vibrations of the West Berlin traffic and the sounds of the city, both features
which were decidedly different from the graveyard silence of East Berlin.
The lights of the Hilton greeted Link with
a cheeriness which belied other parts of the city, but nevertheless, he could
not feel but a sense of great relief when he realized he was back in familiar
territory. He exited the Cortina and
said, “Gentlemen, I want to thank you for what you have done. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your
efforts and for those men on the other side of the wall.”
“Quite all right, Old Chap. Glad to be of service. By the way, do you know that your friend is
coming home tonight?”
Who are you talking about?” exclaimed Link.
“The chap you went to visit…Morton is his
name, I think. We are trading for him
“I don’t understand…how?”
“Remember the most famous trade we ever
made?…1961 it was. Your American U-2
pilot Francis Gary Powers was traded for Russian spy Rudolph Abel whom the
United States had captured in New York.
The trade was completed at the Glienicke Bridge in Southwest West
Berlin. From your dossier we see that
you may have some familiarity with that location.”
Link was mildly surprised that there was a
dossier concerning his history in West Berlin in the mid-1960’s but knowing the
character of Berlin espionage, it did not come as a shock. It seemed paradoxical that in a city teeming
with secret activities, everyone knew everything about the other guy.
The Brit continued, “We have had other,
less noteworthy trades at the same Glienicke Bridge. Basically, each side in this game of chess
trades any captured pawns because we’d rather have our man back in our hands
than give the other side a chance to squeeze more information out of him. Besides, if he really was a traitor we can
throw him into a dungeon for life to think about his errors, or if he was just
doing his job and got caught, we can sometimes recycle him back into the
system. That is what is happening
tonight. Morton is a very low-level
prize, but we have one of their men who has been of questionable value to
us. The Russians think Morton has been
drained of intel and is now a liability to the government, and they aren’t sure
what their guy has told us, so they want to find out. We will do a quick trade tonight and both
sides will get one of their pawns back.
It won’t be like the Powers-Abel exchange with loads of military and
intelligence people there. Just a
two-person escort to drop their guy off and pick up Morton.”
“What time does the trade take place?”
“0100 hours,” (1:00 a.m.) the Brit
replied. “Well, Mr. Stevens. This ends our association, and we wish you a
quiet evening. I understand you are
leaving for to the United States tomorrow.
Please have a good flight, and let me say that England and the Allied
Powers here in West Berlin appreciate your contribution to this mission. Good night.”
With a final wave, the two Englishmen slipped away in their Cortina,
leaving Link at the curb to ponder his next move.
Link’s next move was to move quickly to his
room without attracting too much attention because of his well-worn
clothes. In the safety of his room, he
realized he could not remember the last time he had something to eat. Not desiring to go out for the evening, he
decided to order supper, and in short order his evening meal of wiener
schnitzel with Austrian potatoes and sauerkraut arrived on a steaming tray. One bite of the wiener schnitzel reminded him
of how much he loved authentic German food.
The time by now was approaching 9:00 p.m.,
and the effects of the day began to weigh heavily on Link. He decided to prepare for bed and get a good
night’s rest before his long flight home tomorrow. He would not be leaving Tegel Airport until
11:00 a.m. Though his total flying time would be nearly twelve hours, flying
westward meant he would gain seven time zones.
Arrival in Denver was expected to be around 4:00 p.m. Sunday. Just enough time to get home right on
schedule as if from the real estate convention.
No suspicions should be raised, he thought to himself.
Although Link prepared himself for bed and
slipped under the covers, sleep escaped him.
The dramatic activities of the day were replayed in his mind over and
over. What affected him the most was the
sight of his old friend, Gary, barely ten years removed from active duty and
still in his early thirties, yet for all appearances he looked twenty years
older in frail health. Morton’s
confinement in East Berlin had not gone well, and although Link could not
excuse his friend’s actions in betraying his country, a certain compassion grew
for his old comrade. Within an hour of his
bedtime, Link made another decision: he was going to see his friend one more
time…this time as he re-entered West Berlin at the Glienicke Bridge.
Dressing quickly, he prepared for the
chilly Berlin night with gloves, scarf, and topcoat. By 11:00 p.m. the lobby of the Hilton was
quiet as Link exited the elevator and went out to where the local taxis
congregated. At the front of the taxi
row sat the venerable Mercedes 200 Diesel, clattering quietly in the night
air. Opening the rear door, Link
entered, sat down, and said, “Konigstrausse, in Wannsee, Schlos Glienicke,
The driver turned and replied, “Das ist
eine lange Fahrt. Es wird zwanzig Mark
kosten.” (That’s a long drive. It will
cost twenty marks.)
“OK,” Link agreed and paid him.
Driving toward the Wannsee District of West
Berlin, the driver stirred Link’s memories with landmarks they passed along the
way: the KongressHalle and its contemporary architecture, where Link had
listened to Count Basie and His Band; the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a
destroyed reminder of the terrors of World War II; the glitzy Kurfurstendamm, where
Link and his wife had strolled and window-shopped as poor enlisted
personnel. Entering the Avus Autobahn,
the driver was able to pick up a little speed until exiting at Konigstrausse. From there it was but a very few minutes
until the shadowy form of the Glienicke Bridge began to take shape.
About a block from the entrance to the
bridge, Link spoke to the driver, “Hor hier auf und warte auf mich.” (Stop here
and wait for me.)
driver replied, “Ich brauche zwanzig Mark fur die Ruckreise. Yetzt.”
(I will need twenty marks for the return trip. Now.)
Although that seemed a little unusual,
Link paid and got out of the Mercedes.
This area of far Southwest Berlin is heavily forested and a far cry from
the bustle of the central area.
Pedestrian and bike paths wind through the forest and with the Havel
River as a border between East and West Berlin, it is a very scenic area. It is also very dark after dusk, and the only
lights penetrating the evening were coming from the bridge itself, which
appeared to be near-deserted. Upon
closer approach, however, the familiar “You are leaving the American Sector”
sign in its four languages greeted the walker, with its underlying message that
beyond this bridge, freedom does not exist.
Because it is a checkpoint between East and
West Berlin, there is no normal traffic on the bridge. Barricades stop traffic, and there is a
military guardhouse with armed soldiers monitoring every traveler whether on
foot or driving. Apparently, Link
observed, a quiet night was expected by all, since there appeared to be a lone
guard at his post next to the barricades.
Link decided to stay in the shadows of the trees out of vision of the
guard and wait for the expected transfer at 0100.
At 0050 hours, (12:50 a.m.) a Mercedes van
slipped to the curb, and two men stepped out, both in civilian clothes and
bundled against the night’s chill.
Opening the back door of the van, they helped another man exit. Link noticed the third man was dressed warmly
but not stylishly. The first two men
escorted the third man to the barricade. Link watch from a distance of fifty
meters as the two men approached the guard and showed him some papers while the
third man stood quietly. The guard
nodded and stepped back into his guardhouse while the three men waited outside
next to the barricade.
As Link was watching the events unfold, he
was surprised to see another car, a gray English Cortina, silently park about five
meters away from the Mercedes van. The two
occupants inside did not get out but seemed to be watching the proceeding on
the bridge intently. In approximately
two minutes, headlights appeared on the other side of the bridge. A vehicle drove to the barrier on the East
Berlin side and stopped. The same
scenario occurred again. Three men
exited the car with two escorting the third.
They stood at the barrier and waited.
As the two groups of men faced each other,
one man in each group removed a flashlight from his coat and aimed it at the
other group. A light was flashed on; a
corresponding flash was seen from the other side. Two more flashes from the other side, and two
responses. With the two signals
completed, the man being escorted by the two men in the Mercedes began walking
toward the center of the bridge, just as the escorted man on the other side
began walking toward the American side.
For a moment they exchanged glances in the middle of the bridge but
continued their walks. As the man
approaching the American side neared the two men waiting, Link recognized the
familiar gait, the slight stoop to the back, and the clothing. It was Gary Morton.
Morton stood quietly in front of the two
men. One of the men pulled out a
stethoscope and checked Morton’s heart while the other shined a light into
Morton’s eyes to check for light response.
There was some conversation. Link
caught snippets of the words, but he understood that the men were reading
Morton his rights as a returned fugitive.
In a moment, Morton nodded his head, and the trio began walking back to
the Mercedes. During this period of
time, the two men in the Cortina made not a move but watched the proceedings
However, as the two men escorting Morton
were intent on loading Morton into the back seat of their van and had their
backs to the Cortina, the two men in the Cortina suddenly sprang from their
car, raced to the Mercedes, and with two swift swings of small clubs knocked
both of Morton’s escorts to the ground unconscious. Morton
sat in stunned surprise in the back seat of the Mercedes, but just as quickly,
the men grabbed Morton by the arms and began trying to extricate him from the vehicle. Morton tried to resist but in his weakened
state was no match for the two men. They
stood him up and began pulling him back to their car.
Link watched in horror as the drama unfolded
and realized he had precious seconds to react if he wished to save his
friend. Fortunately, the two ruffians
had been so intent on Morton, they had not noticed Link in the shadows. Link rushed toward the man closest to him,
and with his head down, hit him in the middle of his back with a blow that a NFL
defensive tackle would have been proud of.
The man let out a massive grunt and slammed to the ground, momentarily
stunned. As he hit the ground, his
pistol fell from his inside holster and slid across the sidewalk. Link scrambled to grab the pistol.
Link instantly recognized the weapon as a
Mauser HSc 7.63, a pistol which was adopted and used extensively by the German
Navy and Air Force. Deadly accurate at
close range and with a hair trigger, it had been a favorite for operatives for
nearly thirty years. In a single fluid
movement, Link picked up the Mauser, pulled the slide to insure it was ready to
fire, and swung around to meet the other man.
Link brought the weapon to bear on the man…and froze.
The second man was standing next to the
passenger door of the car. His weapon
was drawn, and in that instant, each man had death pointed in his
direction. But it was not the pointed
weapon that froze Link. The man was
familiar…the tailored suit, the Longine-Wittnaur watch, the diamond ring. It was Gerhardt Schroeder, the man who had
recruited Link for this mission in the first place.
“You!” exclaimed Link.
What are you doing here?” Schroeder replied.
“I don’t understand. I thought you were NSA. Why are you here?” questioned Link.
“Suffice it to say I do not work for NSA
anymore.” Schroeder paused and then
quietly spoke, “Well, now, we seem to
be at an impasse at this moment. I do
not really want to kill you, and I suspect you are not the killing kind,
either. So what are we going to do?”
“I cannot let you take Morton,” Link said
resolutely and tightened his grip on the Mauser.
“I suspected as much. We wanted Morton back for two reasons: one,
to double-cross the Americans on this trade, and two, we are not sure how much
Morton knows about us. But I am not
willing to die for such a low-level prize, and neither should you. I propose you let my man who’s there on the
ground get into my car, and we will vanish into the darkness, and you can take
your traitor back to the United States to live his life in prison.”
You will forgive me if I keep your man’s weapon trained on you until you
drive out of sight,” warned Link.
“Fair enough. Schmidt!!” Schroeder yelled the name of his
partner. By this time Schmidt began to
groan and pull himself up from the ground and stand groggily.
ein. Lass uns gehen!” (Get in.
Schmidt shuffled to the car, slid under the
steering wheel, shook his head to clear the cobwebs and started the engine.
Schroeder bade goodbye, “Abschied. Veilleicht sehen wir runs wieder.” (Farewell.
Perhaps we will meet again.)
“Not likely,” Link thought to himself…and
then he remembered Morton and the two American agents. He had been so engrossed
in the confrontation he had forgotten the other players.
Gary Morton was standing quietly as if too
paralyzed to move. He had not moved nor
said a word during the whole transaction, but now he looked at Link with
pleading eyes. “What now?” he asked.
“Gary, we need to check on your two escorts.” They were still lying unconscious in the
light snow on the sidewalk. Link went to
the first man, pulled him into a sitting position and slapped his face. There was a slight movement. With nothing else to use, Link picked up a
handful of snow and rubbed it on the man’s neck. In thirty seconds, the man groaned, “Oh, my
head! What happened?”
“Sir,” Link said, “clear your head while I
check on your partner.”
Link went to the second agent who was
already beginning to stir, so Link helped him to sit upright. Once both agents were thinking clearly, Link
described what happened.
The agent who was apparently in charge
asked, “And you say you recognized one of the men?”
Link replied, “Yes. His name is Gerhardt Schroeder, and he
allegedly worked for NSA. He’s the one
who recruited me for this job.”
The agent questioned, “He recruited
you? Are you Stevens? The guy from the states who went to see
“I am Stevens.”
“Let me tell you first off,” continued the
agent, “you’re very lucky he did not kill you.
If an agent is recognized, he usually kills his identifier to protect
his own identity.”
“At the time it was sort of a stalemate, so
we both withdrew,” Link wryly replied.
With that, the agent turned to Morton and
said, “OK, Morton, let’s go.” Morton
slipped into the back seat of the Mercedes.
The agent then addressed Link, “Well, Mr.
Stevens, shall we take you back to your hotel, or do you want to wander around
the Wannsee for a while?”
“I am so ready to get back somewhere there
is a bed,” and link slipped into the Mercedes back seat next to his old friend
They traveled in silence for a while, until
Morton asked Link, “Link, what were you doing out here?”
Link gently replied, “I just wanted to
welcome my old friend and comrade back to freedom”
Tears came to Morton’s eyes, and he quietly
spoke, “I hope you’ll come to see me when they decide what prison I will be
“Gary, you can count on it. I’ll be there.”
The agent spoke up, “By the way, Mr.
Stevens, it might be best if you give me the pistol you took from the other
guy. You’ll have a hard time explaining
where you got that when you go through customs tomorrow.”
Link cleared the weapon and gave it to the
agent. “Sure would make a nice souvenir,
though,” said Link.
Arriving at the Berlin Hilton, Link, for the
second time in a single evening, bade goodbye to agents. Link and Gary faced each other for a moment,
shook hands, and then closed with a heartfelt embrace. Once more, Morton quietly said, “God bless
you, Link.” Link watched as the Mercedes
slipped silently away from the curb.
At 5:00 a.m. Link closed his eyes in the
comfort of his bed, but again the actions of the day spun wildly through his
memory. Just as he seemed to slip into a
peaceful sleep, the alarm rang. In an
exhausted fog, he packed his clothing, checked out of the Hilton, and taxied to
The plane left on schedule, but Link
remembered very little of the flight.
Although he always had trouble sleeping in an airliner, this time he had
no problem. Other than the interruptions
of a couple of plane transfers, he slept the deep sleep that only extreme
exhaustion can bring.
The plane landed in Denver right on time,
and three hours later, Sunday evening about 7:00 p.m., he walked into his home.
“I’m home!” he announced to his wife and
son. His son came running to greet his
“I’m in the kitchen! Supper’s about ready!” exclaimed his wife.
Link walked into the kitchen, smelling the
sweet savor of supper. His wife wiped her hands on her apron and kissed him.
“Welcome home. Was it a usual meeting?”
Link did not look her in the eyes as he
said, “Oh, yeah, you know how they are.
Same old stuff. I’m glad to be