Spymaster steps from shadow into courtroom limelight

The "man without a face" made a triumphant entry into the bunker, turning his cheek towards the cameras and acknowledging well-wishers with a haughty nod. Markus Wolf, one-time superspy, strutted in the limelight with a familiarity belying his long life in the dark; in the shadowy world of espionage.

For most of the three decades that he ran East Germany's foreign intelligence service, the HVA, his Western adversaries could not even put a face to the name. Now his image fills television screens, his punditry commands exorbitant fees, a book entitled Secrets of Russian Cuisine pays the bills, and the last Cold warrior is about to hit stardom with a seminal work on the Cold War.

All that stands in the way of minting fame into fortune is a little misunderstanding with the German judiciary, who keep trying to throw him into jail. And so Mr Wolf returned yesterday to the windowless Dusseldorf courtroom where he was once convicted of treason, but this time as a common criminal.

Then - he was absolved by the highest court in the land, which ruled that East Germans who had spied on West Germany had committed no crime in their own country. Now - the prosecution is citing the East German penal code in an attempt to convict him on charges of abduction, coercion, and causing grievous bodily harm.

"My accusers have revealed no more than methods that have belonged to all secret services of all ages," Mr Wolf said, staring at his prosecutors. "Neither the constitution, nor the law of the country I served were violated." If he had ordered the kidnapping and brutalisation of innocents, then his actions had been no worse than those of the other side.

In response to the charge that he had ordered the imprisonment of a former Gestapo employee, Mr Wolf took a dig at the Western inclination to turn a blind eye: "Contrary to the West German secret services, the uncovering of former Nazi henchmen was one of the legitimate tasks of the HVA," he declared.

It was dedication to root out "Hitler-fascism" and to defend "socialism" that had driven him, he said. As if to justify his actions, Mr Wolf dwelt at length on his colourful life, his famed memory deserting him only when he was asked about the date of his third marriage.

His parents, atheist Jews who joined the Communist Party in 1928, fled Germany in 1933 after the burning of the Reichstag. Markus - or "Misha" - grew up in Moscow, and was educated at a school for German communists where teachers and pupils would often disappear in a Stalinist purge. Misha studied to be an aircraft engineer, but after the outbreak of war he was ordered to enrol in the Comintern's school for promising leaders of the future satellite states.

He returned to Germany shortly after the surrender, working as a propagandist for the Russian "liberators". Eventually, he became an East German diplomat in Moscow and then a party apparatchik in East Berlin.

On his career between 1955 and 1986, Mr Wolf remained silent, but he appeared keen to talk about his relatively short flirtation with journalism. In 1946, he covered the Nuremberg trials, which some commentators today regard as the precedent for bringing leaders of the East German regime to justice.

"It was a deeply emotional experience, one which I will never forget," Mr Wolf said yesterday, his now famous face betraying not a hint of irony.

The trial is expected to last until the end of March.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'