Lutz Eigendorf, dubbed the ‘Beckenbauer of the East’ was last seen on 5th March 1983 drinking at his local bar, The Cockpit. Earlier that day his club, Braunschweig, had lost to Bochum with the midfielder watching from the bench.
Later that evening his car was found wrapped round a tree. He’d hit it at speed negotiating a right-hand turn. His alcohol level was said to be very high and so the local police closed the case labelling it a drink-related accident. But many are not convinced it was simply an accident. Many believe the Stasi had attempted to murder him.
With Germany split into East and West after World War Two, the communist East was often considered too oppressive by many. This lead to people ‘defecting’ to the West. Defection was often filled with danger as the penalty could mean they were shot for it. East Germany, in particular, increasingly prohibited citizens from travelling West, including West Germany.
Defection was considered highly embarrassing to the state. For some, they were pursued by the Stasi, the feared secret police of the German Democratic Republic. The West seemed only too keen to take on people who, in their eyes, had rejected the whole communist ideology.
In March 1979 Eigendorf defected to the West and it was said to have caused great embarrassment to Erich Mielke, the head of the Stasi. Once installed as leader, he built an efficient organisation which infiltrated society. Using close surveillance almost every letter sent in East Germany was opened and about 2% of the population worked with the Stasi in some form or other.
Lutz Eigendorf was a midfield player with Dynamo Berlin, a club controlled by the Ministry of State Security. For a time Mielke was President of the club.
Six years after he defected, he died in suspicious circumstances in a car accident.
Eigendorf was labelled “the Beckenbauer of the East”. He joined Berlin’s youth team and went onto make his professional debut as an 18-year-old in 1974. He made 100 appearances in his time with Dynamo.
Dynamo were an underperforming ‘big’ club in the Oberliga. By 1978/79 season they hadn’t won anything as the decade was dominated by Dynamo Dresden and Magdeburg.
By March 1979 they were top of the league. The 1978/79 season had begun as a personal triumph for the Eigendorf. His performances for Berlin had come to the attention of national coach, Georg Buschner. He made his international debut against Bulgaria in a friendly at Erfurt, scoring both goals in a 2-2 draw. A week later he scored again in a 2-1 win over Czechoslovakia in Leipzig.
He’d earned his way into the side for the European Championship qualifiers in Iceland and the Netherlands. They beat Iceland but lost to the Dutch, Eigendorf’s first defeat at international level.
In February 1979 he played in the back-to-back friendlies against Iraq in Baghdad. It looked like the world was his oyster.
On the 17th of March, Eigendorf scored Berlin’s fourth goal in the match against Sachsenring Zwickau. They went on to win the game 10-0 and go seven points clear of Dresden at the top with just nine matches of the season left.
Could life get any better? Well apparently, he thought it could.
Just after the demolition of Zwickau, the Berlin squad made the trip across the border for a friendly against Kaiserslautern. The next day they made a visit to the city of Gießen. During this visit, Eigendorf managed to get away from the rest of the team, jumped into a taxi and fled back to Kaiserslautern claiming he wanted to play for the club. Because he had defected UEFA banned him for a year.
Berlin weren’t unduly affected by the loss of an important player and won their first Oberliga title by seven points.
Kaiserslautern chairman, Norbert Thines, helped hide him as Eigendorf had to content himself with coaching the youth side during his ban. The player certainly didn’t help his cause back home by publicly criticising East Germany.
This added to the embarrassment for the government, and particularly Mielke. Eigendorf was a star player with the team and also the country. Now he had turned his back on the regime and was now vocally critical of them. Eigendorf’s wife, Gabriele and daughter were still in Berlin and placed under constant police surveillance.
Over the years that followed, Eigendorf often expressed his fear of kidnap or worse, as he was convinced retribution was heading his way. The Stasi had support from agents throughout eastern Europe. Was he ever going to be safe?
He played for Kaiserslautern for three years making over 50 appearances, before moving to Eintracht Braunschweig in 1982.
Gabriele, meanwhile, divorced her husband. Or to be correct, lawyers working for the state quickly arranged her divorce and she remarried. Her new husband was an agent of the state police, conveniently positioned to observe his new wife’s movements. Eigendorf too remarried.
Then came the car accident. Two days later the 26-year-old died in hospital.
On the night of the accident, it was revealed there were extremely high levels of alcohol in his blood. Yet eyewitnesses claimed he’d only drunk a few small beers that night. His widow insisted it wasn’t in his nature to drink too much. There was also a suggestion he’d been blinded by headlights, possibly from a truck. The road he was on at the time of the accident wasn’t even his usual route home. Strange.
It has been suggested the Braunschweig police ticked off the case quite quickly as an alcohol-related accident. No autopsy was performed, and the scene of the crash was never forensically investigated. In addition to the truck story, there were also claims his brakes failed, or shots hit his windscreen. But these were never proved or dismissed.
Rumours inevitably pointed towards the Stasi. By then Mielke was said to use the phrase “remember Eigendorf” when trying to motivate agents.
“He was murdered by the Stasi” says Kaiserslautern chairman, Thines. To this day Thines maintains this theory.
As with so much during the Cold War rumours and counter-rumours were rife. So, it wasn’t until reunification that many of the Stasi records revealed the truth.
These records showed the lengths to which the Stasi were prepared to go to monitor a person they saw as a traitor. Four years before his death, around 50 agents were sent to the West to monitor and report back on his movements.
They also pointed towards the Stasi losing patience with the player when he gave an interview to a Western tv station that was stuck on the Wall alongside a picture of Berlin’s home ground.
The documents also revealed the possible use of toxins and gases on Eigendorf had been discussed by the Stasi officers in East Berlin. This is where a mysterious car accident as a planned assassination attempt by them is thought to have been possible.
However, there are surprisingly few documents relating to the final months of Eigendorf’s life. It has been suggested that those documents were destroyed. There is one document, however, which refers to suggestions of how they might dispose of the player. It suggests he was poisoned. The theory is as he left the bar, he was kidnapped at gunpoint, forced to drink a large amount of alcohol laced with a poison which acts on nerve cells. He was then released and It seems plausible he would’ve driven off as fast as he could, under the influence of shock, fear alcohol and whatever toxic substance he’d ingested. Then a second Stasi method came into plan. ‘Flashing’ was a means by which a car hidden in the dark would suddenly turn its headlights on full to blind an oncoming driver. This was particularly effective if it happened on a dangerous bend.
The public prosecutor’s office in Berlin started an investigation into the possible murder of Eigendorf by the Stasi. But observers have argued the office appeared to view the investigation as more of a burden than a public duty. For example, Stasi lieutenant colonel, Heinz Hess was involved in the observation of Eigendorf but he was never interviewed by investigators.
Hess was head of special tasks at the Stasi headquarters in East Berlin. It was responsible for combating “republic refugees”. It has been documented in the intelligence files Hess had been awarded a special premium of 1,000 GDR marks on the anniversary of Eigendorf’s death.
Hess died in 2004. The Public Prosecutor’s Office closed the case in 2004. Public pressure called for the case to be reopened but in 2011 this was denied through lack of any objective evidence of any third-party involvement. To this day the case remains unsolved.
In 2010 former Stasi agent, Karl-Heinz Felgner testified before a court in Dusseldorf he had received a contract to murder Eigendorf. He befriended the fugitive with the purpose of carrying out the contract, but claims he never did.
There could still be more evidence to uncover as it has been suggested there are still almost 15,000 sacks full of torn Stasi documents to go through.