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.

The 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?

The 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.

I 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  |  Flags


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 Montreal Olympics  (New York Times, 2001).’



Below are links to many of the pages, websites and papers I found vital to my research:

One of my conference papers on the writing about the Doping Scam:

Kienbaum Sportzentrum, Grünheide, Berlin, Germany. Grünhide, Berlin, Germany.

The University of Texas at Austin, TheUngerleider Archives,
Texas Archival Resources Online. Overview available:

Ungerleider, Steven, Faust’s Gold
(New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2001).

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 Police
(Oxford: Westview Press, 1999).

Lifton, Robert, Jay, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology
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.





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 games.

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 town.

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,
immensely powerful.

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 climax.
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.











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