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The German Trials

The Slow Grind Of The Wheels Of Justice


Karin Helsmtaedt

BERLIN-May 13, 1998. Moabit District Courthouse, Room 105. Rolf Glaser leans forward on his knees and stares at the floor. Now the Austrian national swimming coach, Glaser, 58, is having his turn in the wringer. His fellow accused, swimming coaches Dieter Lindemann, Volker Frischke, Dieter Krause, and doctors Dieter Binus and Bernd Pansold, do their best to feign disinterest, locking their gazes on high windows, walls, legs of chairs. The small room is hushed as Judge Brautigam reads aloud from the Stasi file of "IM Rolf," otherwise known as Dr. Lothar Kipke, page after page of "character assessments of Comrade Glaser." A prolific Stasi informer, Kipke was also the Chief doctor of the East German Swimming Federation. His reports on Glaser, made in the mid-70s, hit hard; he qualifies Glaser as "egocentric," "arrogant," and "disruptive to other coaches." We hear of his heavy use of alcohol, of his domineering treatment of his wives, of his outbursts over the standard of accommodation on team trips. Once, after having downed too much Schnapps with his colleagues, Glaser carelessly related how he had outwitted the State by masterminding an illegal real estate deal; the incident was duly reported. Glaser "would walk over corpses for money and success" the file reads on. There is some shifting of feet. Glaser's posture is that of a man reacting to ruthless exposure, hunched in quiet rage, shock, and shame. The defence lawyers, all robed in black and with heavy volumes of Stasi files piled before them, look unfazed. All in a day's work. The judge reads on like one anxious to get to the point.

Since March 18, the first wave of doping trials against former swimming coaches and doctors of the SC Dynamo Berlin have plodded on. And having chosen to remain silent and withold information about their professional histories in the GDR, the six accused have left the court no choice but to seek the information elsewhere, namely from witness testimonies and Stasi files.

Today's witness, Dr. Kipke of Leipzig, tried his best to get out of making an appearance in Berlin. Now 70, he pleaded ill health and offered a medical certificate. He was denied the permission to miss. After arriving at 11 a.m. with his lawyer, Kipke is seated directly in front of the judge. The courtroom is so small that, ironically, his chair crowds Glaser's knees. And as expected, apart from stating his name and address, the aging doctor exercises his own right to silence. Himself under investigation for involvement in the GDR drug scam, any testimony could adversely affect his future defense.

So, on this twelfth day of proceedings, it's back to the files. Brautigam reads aloud Kipke's carefully recorded dosages of Oral-Turinabol (an anabolic steroid): 200 mg per cycle for women, and up to 400 mg per cycle for men. Everything is meticulously documented, the "risks" of such substances, the irreversible changes that occured, and that without the "UM" (the euphemistic short form for Oral-Turinabol) the GDR "could not be sure of achieving world class results."

In the past weeks, other witnesses, themselves the victims of the drug program, have been summoned to give their own account of events. Former world record-holder Christiane Knacke-Sommer, who was kept home from the 1978 world championships because her final pre-competition urine test revealed a dangerously high level of male hormones, delivered a scathing testimony against Glaser, her former coach. Other witnesses to date were Birgit Matz, Jane Lang, and Kerstin Olm. With the exception of Lang, whose memory is particularly poor, all remember having received the famous blue pills.

Earlier in the week the accompanying literature from the 1974 packaging of Oral-Turinabol was examined, and defence lawyers pointed out the notice that "the effects of long term use were as yet unknown." They argue that in light of this, the accused could not possibly have known that the drug could be dangerous. The negative effects of anabolic steroids were already well documented, however, in a number of medical journals between 1967 and 1969. The point will be to prove a) that the blue pills were indeed Oral-Turinabol, and b) that coaches and doctors were aware of the potential risks of their actions, outlined so clearly by Dr. Kipke. Judge Brautigam has maintained that whether or not the victims sustained any physical damage was not the issue; in other words, in distributing potentially harmful drugs to unknowing youngsters, no side-effects are necessary to constitute a crime. Damage to victims' health could, however, determine the severity of eventual sentencing. If convicted, the accused could get up to three years in prison.

Brautigam remains sceptical, however, that a direct link between side-effects and the drugs is provable without a doubt, and it is conceivable that some could get off with fines and serve no real prison sentence. Even if this were the case, the goal of the "pilot" trial in Berlin seems to be to set a precedent that will allow the higher levels of responsibility to be brought to trial. When former GDR sport chief Manfred Ewald and two of his former comrades showed up as observers during the first days in court, Judge Brautigam asked them to leave on the grounds that they would later be called as witnesses. It is therefore very likely that the present hearings will be followed by further trials in swimming and many other sports.

Still to come onto the witness stand are former swimmers Carola (Nitschke) Beraktschjan, Daniela Hunger, and the still active Kathrin Meissner, Sylvia Gerasch, and world champion Kerstin Kielgass. Given that only four of an expected 19 former athletes have been heard, the trials are expected to continue well into the fall.

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