Bridge of Spies

Those of us fortunate enough to have attended the Berlin course (our 34th) this past September might remember crossing the Glienicke Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Spies, on our return from our visit to Potsdam.  Many notable Cold War personalities crossed the Havel on that otherwise inconspicuous bridge until the Berlin Wall’s fall (Anatoly Shcharansky, Rudolf Abel, Gary Powers, and Marian Zacharski being the best known).  Each theatrically took the direction home with full Cold War media attention. However as a recent eponymous film aptly demonstrates, bringing these happy conclusions about required complex transactions and juridical negotiations.  As such, the film features a prime mover of Cold War “spy swapping”, the now mostly forgotten Dr Wolfgang Vogel.

Vogel was characterized in West German media as Der Anwalt des Teufels [the Devil’s Lawyer].  He enriched himself from his Freikauf [buying freedom] deals – deals whereby the East German government allowed some 35,000 people to leave for West Germany in exchange primarily for West German financial considerations – and developed deep relationships with notable West German politicians such as Helmut Schmidt who later vouched for him after his inevitable arrest in the early nineteen nineties by a rankled reunified German state. Vogel was charged by a Bavarian court with tax evasion in the former East Germany! Although he was convicted by the lower court, part of his conviction was overturned in 1998 and all charges against him were subsequently stayed.

Amongst the outstanding presentations made during our 34th course in Berlin, Prof. Dr. Johanna Schmidt-Räntsch discussed the issues brought about by the melding of the two disparate legal systems that were in force in post-war Germany and, in her conclusion, called upon Librarians to   preserve the East-German legal patrimony. Unless proper archival preservation is made for documents reflecting the juridical framework of past regimes, these legal traditions will truly become irretrievable from the dustbin of history; much like various Cold War characters such as Dr Vogel who are now mostly forgotten, save for a cameo appearance in a film.

Daniel Boyer