BEHIND DARK MERMAIDS
I found my story whilst trawling the internet
for information about my family who had lived in the former
GDR,escaping either before,
or once the Wall was built. As I searched I came across the heading
‘The GDR Doping Scam, Theme 14.25’,and was hooked.
story haunted me. I wanted to represent the athletes as honestly as I
could, yet frame the narrative as a thriller. How could I do both?
following five years saw me travelling to Berlin, Kienbaum, ordering
files from the University of Austin Texas after reading Faust’s
Gold by Steven Ungerleider, whilst writing to former East German
athletes, journalists, anyone who might help.
was lucky enough to be invited to a viewing of Marcus Welch’s
documentary ‘And I Thought I Was the Greatest’, a film profiling the
life of a former German Democratic Republic (GDR) volleyball star
named Katharina Bullin.
Then, finally, I had a breakthrough and was invited to stay for two
nights at Kienbaum sports centre and see, first hand, one of the
former training grounds for the athletes I was trying so hard to
re-create. I began to see her - Sophia, the athlete I wanted to
create. She was difficult, cagey, a product of a regime that lived on
secrets and lies, someone who didn’t easily trust.
As I walked through the spots centre I held her image in my mind, and
later that night began to write. Here are some of the images that
helped me begin my story.
The sentry tower above the
underground facility | Monitoring screens
The Barochamber |
Monitoring screens |
Poster of a swimmer
Running machines |
The room where I have Sophia find out the truth of her past
‘The doping scheme, known
as State Planning Theme 14.25, was conducted in alliance with the
Stasi, the secret police. The issue of performance-enhancing drugs was
known by the euphemism, ''supporting means.'' Until the Berlin Wall
fell, doping served its purpose. A country of only 17 million
surpassed even the United States in the gold-medal count at the 1976
(New York Times, 2001).’
are links to many of the pages, websites and papers I found vital to
One of my conference papers on the writing about the Doping Scam:
Kienbaum Sportzentrum, Grünheide, Berlin, Germany. Grünhide, Berlin,
The University of Texas at Austin, TheUngerleider Archives,
Texas Archival Resources Online. Overview available:
Ungerleider, Steven, Faust’s Gold
(New York: Thomas Dunne Books,
Clinical Chemistry 1997.
HajoSeppelt, Journalist and GDR expert
Welsch, Marcus (dir.),KatharinaBullin, Und ichdachteichwär’ die Größte
(And I thought I was the greatest), Documentary Film, 2006.
Berendonk, Brigitte, Doping from Research to Deceit, trans. by Gisela
Ulich (Hamburg: Rowohlt Paper book, 1992).
Davies, Stevie,TheElement of Water (London: The Women’s Press, 2001).
Funder, Anna, Stasiland, Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall
(London: Granta Books, 2003).
Koehler, John, STASI, The Untold Story of The East German Secret
(Oxford: Westview Press, 1999).
Lifton, Robert, Jay, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the
of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 2000).
Roseman, Mark, The Past in Hiding (London: Penguin Books, 2000).
Yesalis, Charles E, Anabolic Steroids in Sport and Exercise 2nd edn.
(Illinois, Versa Press, 1993 – 2000).
Henckel Von Donnersmarck, Florian (dir.), Das Leben der Anderen:
The Lives of Others (DVD), Wiedmann& Berg, 2006.
Seppelt, Hajo (reporter), ARD-Sportschau – extra-Staatsgeheimnis
Kinderdoping-RBB-Sendung, vom 25.09.1997.
REVIEW BY MIKE PARKER
To take second place in the
Olympics medal table is some major achievement, as an increasingly
hysterical ‘Team GB’ media reminded us throughout this summer’s games.
If it’s good going for a country of sixty million, it is extraordinary
for one of seventeen, the size of the Netherlands or Guatemala. Yet in
the 1970s and ’80s, this was the story of East Germany, der DDR, a
nation that had competed separately only since the Mexico games of
1968. In the enemy’s back yard of Munich 1972, the DDR vaulted above
its western sibling, and stayed there for the remainder of its days.
In Montreal 1976, Moscow 1980 and Seoul 1988 (Warsaw Pact countries
boycotted Los Angeles 1984), the medal table remained the same: 1st
USSR, 2nd DDR. Neither country even existed by the time of the next
Whispers about the unnaturally
burly East German competitors, the women in particular, soon proved
true. The country’s Olympic miracle was built on mass state doping,
often unbeknownst to the pitifully young competitors who were usually
told that they were taking “vitamins”. Dark Mermaids takes us back to
1990, in the chaos of immediate post-wall Germany, and spins a
seductive tale from this gruesome frontline of sporting politics.
Its heroine is Sophia Künstler,
a child DDR swimming sensation at Montreal ’76, whose subsequent
illness, a result of her doping, propelled her and her doctor father
across the border to live in the West. When we first meet her,
fourteen years later, she is a Berlin police officer. Her past
ambushes her when a battered corpse is discovered in a city park:
it is an old friend and swimming colleague from the same DDR home
The unfolding nightmare reels
off in multiple directions, and Anne Lauppe-Dunbar spares
us none of it. Shattered families, broken bodies and minds, brutality,
rape and even murder were considered prices worth paying for the state
to boost its status through sport.
Lauppe-Dunbar marshals the facts of history deftly, and devastatingly,
into her fictional characterscape. Her narrative is unflinching and
darkly sensual, its evocation of the smell, taste and colours of fear,
or of oozing bodily fluids and equally goopy emotions,
So powerful, in truth, that it
sometimes overwhelms the nuts and bolts of the plot, an occasional
irritant in a story with many sharp twists, particularly towards the
But then she swoops back with lines of such pitch-black poetry that
almost all is forgiven. This is much more a lyrical tour of a man-made
hell than it is a police procedural
Twenty-five years after its
demise, the DDR remains the poster boy for doping in sport, though of
course it rages on. Only recently have we learned that kindly,
capitalist West Germany, so indignant at the Olympic success of its
poor twin, embarked on its own dubious programmes in the 1970s. Russia
remains under deep suspicion; others too.
The DDR muscled its way to the overall Olympic silver by the foulest
of means. Team GB, we’re told, did it on nothing stronger than lottery
funding and pluck. Let’s hope that that remains the truth.