If it had not been for 15 minutes... Chapter 6
You are on Chapter 6. You can read chapter 5 here.
Continuing with the story of how my mother and I became de-facto spies and participated in the biggest defection case in the 50 year history of the former East-Germany......
Mother and Werner were asked to go to certain park in Berlin, specifically they had been given certain landmarks within the park but no further details as to what might be found there. Mom promptly caught a train and went to meet with Werner. Together they made their way to the park and carefully followed the BND's instructions. There was the statue.... and a certain number of steps away from it was ....nothing! Nothing except a pile of leaves. A pile like any other that had been swept into a small mount by the wind. Werner bent down and riffled through the leaves. He felt something hard. Quickly brushing off the top coat of loose leaves he found an old piece of weathered wood. A branch or a piece from a nearby shed. It was dark, wet, and looked as though it had been there a hundred years. Werner slowly pulled the wood from its leafy bed and flipped it over. There it was! The bottom of the small plank contained a rectangular cutout that was closed with a tiny metal latch. Werner hid the wood in his overcoat and together they returned to a STASI safehouse, actually more of a "safe apartment' that both used for rendevouz's. How ironic - here they were all excited, their hands almost shaking, in a STASI apartment about to open a communique from the enemy.
Werner opened the small latch and pulled a small bundle from the wooden plank. Tightly wrapped in plastic, to protect it form the elements, the bundle was approximately the size of a postcard and about 1/4 in thick. When the plastic was removed the package revealed several items. It contained 10 pre-addressed envelopes, an equal number of pre-written letters, it also contained invisible ink cartridges and a one-time use pad of cyphers in the form of small mircrofilms.
Covering everything was a letter of introduction from the BND. Mom still remembers the friendly tone with which it was written. The letter contained instructions for the use of the cyphers, radio frequencies and other information.
The message as it was contained one big logistical problem. In order to listen to a short-wave radio broadcast on the frequency described in the letter, one needs a short wave radio that is capable of receiving the frequency of this broadcast. European radio frequencies are organized a little bit different from the US. For example, certain stations like the BBC in Great Britain or Deutsche Welle in Germany use short-wave and ultra-short wave frequencies, which allowed their transmissions to travel further across the world. There are several different spectra of short wave radio frequencies that can be used by commercial stations and other "transmitters", such as the various intelligence services operating in Europe. The most famous intelligence funded radio operation was Radio Free Europe. Yes I know the website very prominently states that this is a privately funded enterprise but everyone knows that a large part of its funding, if not currently then absolutely in the past, has come from the US government. By the way, there is nothing wrong with that .
Unfortunately the small transistor receivers that one could purchase in East-Germany absolutely did not carry the band that was inidicated in the dead letter drop message (3,7 - 4 Megahertz). That, in short was the nature of the logistical problem. We were not professional agents. We had no training and consequently neither my mother nor Werner knew that this was an indication of some of the bumbling keystone cop behavior that we could expect from the BND. In later years we were told that a professionally run operation would have known about the problem of East-German receivers and supplied an appropriately configured radio before sending any transmissions. Leaving us to fend for ourselves created an increased risk of exposure. Interestingly, by all accounts Werner was as dumbfounded by this situation as mother had been, which illustrates how much of a desk bound operative he really was.
The situation was quite stressful and perplexing. Time was running out and the day for the first scheduled transmission was approaching ever more quickly. Luckily my mother found a solution.
Our hometown had two Intershop's - small stores that sold Western goods for hard currency. She noticed that the Intershop just happen to sell a receiver of the type we needed. Mother used a portion of the tip money that she had received over the years in hard currency, took yet another train to Berlin and visited an Intershop in the county's capital to purchase a West German "Grundig" or "Telefunken" short wave receiver.
It is hard to blend into a crowd when a store does not have much traffic. Intershops drew many window shoppers but few actual customers. Nonetheless, Mom tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. And just as she was beginning to relax and feel a little bit confident about her purchase transaction, which was progressing quite fast and efficiently, the sales person turned to her and said: " We need to complete a registration form required for the purchase of this radio. Where do you live? ". Mom's heart skipped a beat. She quickly tried to come up with an answer. Which address? Which address? Of course she couldn't give out our actual home address. It would seem logical and less suspicious if the item was bought by a Berliner. In the end the only address that came to mind was that of a family friend. Crossing her fingers in hopes that no one would bother to check it out, Mother proceeded to give out the incorrect information.
You know, radio waves have one really wonderful quality - they don't know what borders are. They have no concept of countries and are not hindered by walls, fences or guard towers with powerful spotlights. And the infamous automatic gun emplacments along the Eastern side of the border, designed to automatically fire a barrage of rounds right along the fence if tripped by a defector, were no problem for radio waves.
As a result, many folks in East-Germany would listen to West German radio stations and watch West German TV.
Having obtained the radio, mother waited patiently for the designated transmission day. She explains that the first few times were terribly hard. She had the radio under a pillow - no earphones were available. So here she was with a pillow over her head and over the radio, the frequency fading in and out - it took her a full five hours to get the first message down and deciphered. (The reason being that the transmission could fade out and if one small piece of it could not be heard you'd have to start all over again).
As mom explains it "Our code was 6-4-0. Twice a week, several times a day the same message was delivered. "
Continue to chapter 7
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5/2/2004; 7:24:04 PM.
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