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RAINER LIEBEKE

Rainer Liebeke
Rainer Liebeke drowned in Sacrower Lake north of Potsdam while trying to flee to the West just before his 35th birthday on September 3, 1986. He had been living with his wife and child in his hometown of Gotha. He was a trained motor mechanic, but worked as a taxi driver for the state-owned company “Kraftverkehr Erfurt.” Rainer Liebeke was a passionate motorcyclist. As a member of the Gotha Motor Club he participated in all the important races that took place in East Germany for the 50-ccm bike category. In 1985 he advanced to a licensed racer in the East German General German Motor Sport Association (ADMV).[1]

He shared his enthusiasm for motorcycling with Dirk K. from Eisenach, who was nine years his junior. They had met in his sports club in 1980. In 1982 Dirk K. introduced Rainer Liebeke to a West German racer and his family and they were able to provide him with hard-to-find replacement parts for his bike. Over the following years their western colleague made a few visits to Gotha to see his motorcyclist friends in the East. They vacationed together at Lake Balaton in Hungary in 1986.

As soon as they returned from this vacation, things started to go downhill for Rainer Liebeke. First he learned that the ADMV planned to discontinue the race category he was in. Then he crashed during the Schleizer Triangle Race and broke his collar bone. His family advised him to give up racing, but as soon as he had recovered, he began changing his motorcycle to meet the standards for the larger engine capacity class. Dirk K., who, like Rainer Liebeke, was also affected by the changes in the motorcycling sport, helped him to convert his bike.[2]

On September 1 and 2, 1986, Dirk K. paid a visit to Rainer Liebeke, who was still on sick leave. Dirk K.’s mother thinks this must have been when the two men decided to flee to West Berlin together.[3] Rainer Liebeke’s frustration with life in East Germany had begun in the early 1970s when he took a drive with a BMW that belonged to his cousin who was visiting Gotha from the West. The next day he was picked up at work by the secret police and interrogated for hours. According to his sister, this experience changed him. After that he felt constricted and patronized in East Germany.[4]

On September 2, 1986, the day of his escape, Rainer Liebeke told his wife that he was going with Dirk K. to see a mechanic in Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz) about getting replacement parts for his motorcycle.[5] But instead of traveling to Karl-Marx-Stadt, the two men took a train to Potsdam. They headed from there to Sacrower Lake, the east side of which belonged to border territory. Dirk K. knew this area of the border well because he had served his military duty there from 1983 to 1985.[6]

The two men had to trudge through marshy grounds and thick reeds before they reached the Sacrower Lake by dark. It was 500 meters to the other side and they had to be very careful because spotlights lit up the area at irregular intervals. The younger man swam off quickly, but Rainer Liebeke was increasingly hindered by his collarbone injury. When they were still in Potsdam he had asked Dirk K. to tighten his shoulder bandage.[7] The men called out quietly to each other in order not to lose contact, but when Dirk K. reached the bank he realized that his friend was no longer behind him. He looked for him for a while but then decided not to further endanger himself and continued his flight through the woods to the Havel bank. Using a tree stake, Dirk K. was able to make it through the border grounds at a point almost exactly equidistant from two watchtowers. When he reached the Havel he triggered an alarm. But by the time the border guards began looking for him he had already swum across the border that ran through the middle of the river. The border troop commander noted in a report: “We lost his trace beyond the forward blocking element towards the Havel in the direction of the enemy.”[8] Dirk K. reached the riverbank of West Berlin intact.[9]

Rainer Liebeke, however, did not survive the escape. A week later his body was discovered in the Sacrower Lake by two schoolchildren who notified the East German police. A short time later the crew of an East German border troop boat retrieved his body from the water and identified him from the personal documents they found on him.[10]

Rainer Liebeke’s wife waited in vain for a message from her husband. She told the East German secret police that she had not known about any escape plans. An acquaintance from West Germany told her on the phone that her husband tried to escape on September 5, 1986 with a friend but never arrived in the West. She issued a missing persons’ report four days later because she presumed that her husband was still alive and probably in prison. She and the other family members did not learn of his death from the East German secret police until September 19.[11] The widow was questioned by the East German secret police many times in the days that followed. She also started to feel ostracized and pushed around at work.[12] Her son was even picked up at school and questioned about his parents.[13] The widow was denied both accident death benefits and life insurance benefits because the East German authorities were of the view that “the death [of Rainer Liebeke] involved criminal behavior caused by the deceased.”[14]

The urn containing Rainer Liebeke’s ashes was buried in the cemetery in Gotha on October 3, 1986.[15] His widow applied for an exit visa and was granted the right to resettle with her son in West Germany in 1988.

[Udo Baron]

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[1] See “Telegramm der BVfS Erfurt/Abt. IX an das MfS/HA IX und das MfS/ZKG über Fluchtversuch und Fahndung nach dem Mitflüchtling von Rainer Liebeke, 24.9.1986,” in: BStU, Ast. Erfurt, AU 2100/87, Bd. 1, Bl. 87.
[2] See “Untersuchungsbericht der BVfS Erfurt/Untersuchungsabteilung, 26.11.1986,” in: BStU, Ast. Erfurt, AU 2100/87, Bd. 1, Bl. 194–195; “Vermisstenanzeige für Rainer Liebeke bei dem VPKA Gotha durch die Ehefrau von Rainer Liebeke, 12.9.1986,” in: BStU, Ast. Erfurt, AU 2100/87, Bd. 2, Bl. 86–87.
[3] See “Niederschrift des MfS/KD Eisenach über eine Aussprache mit den Eltern von Dirk K., 22.11.1986,” in: BStU, Ast. Erfurt, AU 2100/87, Bd. 1, Bl. 156–157.
[4] See conversation conducted by Udo Baron with Rainer Liebeke’s sister, 29.10.2007.
[5] On this and the following, see “Untersuchungsbericht der BVfS Erfurt/Untersuchungsabteilung, 26.11.1986,” in: BStU, Ast. Erfurt, AU 2100/87, Bd. 1, Bl. 198.
[6] Ibid., Bl. 198.
[7] See “Niederschrift des MfS/KD Eisenach über eine Aussprache mit den Eltern von Dirk K., 22.11.1986,” in: BStU, Ast. Erfurt, AU 2100/87, Bd. 1, Bl. 156.
[8] “Untersuchungsbericht des Kommandeurs des Grenzkommandos Mitte zum Grenzdurchbruch DDR/Berlin (West) am 3.9.1986, 5.9.1986,” in: BArch, GT 14514, Bl. 134.
[9] See “Tagesmeldung Nr. 3/9/86 des MfS, 3.9.1986,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 10341, Bl. 400.
[10] See “Anzeige durch das VPKA Potsdam über die Auffindung der Leiche von Rainer Liebeke, 12.9.1986,” in: BStU, Ast. Erfurt, AU 2103/87, Bd. 3, Bl. 4–5; “Tagesmeldung Nr. 12/9/86 des MfS, 13.9.1986,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 10341, Bl. 377–379.
[11] See conversation conducted by Udo Baron with Rainer Liebeke’s widow, 18.2.2008; letter from Rainer Liebeke’s sister Beate B. to Udo Baron, 1.11.2007; “Telegramm der BVfS Erfurt/Abt. IX an das MfS/HA IX und das MfS/ZKG über Fluchtversuch und Fahndung nach dem Mitflüchtling von Rainer Liebeke, 24.9.1986,” in: BStU, Ast. Erfurt, AU 2100/87, Bd. 1, Bl. 87–88.
[12] “Aktenvermerk des MfS/KD Gotha zum durchgeführten Gespräch mit der Person [Name geschwärzt; der Witwe von Rainer Liebeke, d. Verf.] am 27.10.1986, 28.10.1986,” in: BStU, Ast. Erfurt, AU 2100/87, Bd. 1, Bl. 222.
[13] See conversation conducted by Udo Baron with Rainer Liebeke’s widow, 18.2.2008.
[14] “Schreiben des MfS an die Staatliche Versicherung der DDR/Kreisdirektion Gotha, 11.12.1986,” in: BStU, Ast. Erfurt, AU 2100/87, Bd. 4, Bl. 24.
[15] Conversation conducted by Udo Baron with Rainer Liebeke’s sister, 29.10.2007; conversation conducted by Udo Baron with Rainer Liebeke’s widow, 18.2.2008.