TV-radio star toppled by disclosure he informed for old E. German secret police

January 15, 1995|By New York Times News Service

BERLIN -- When a television station announced recently that it would broadcast a special program that evening featuring Lutz Bertram, high ratings were all but guaranteed.

The station, ORB, is one of the principal news sources in eastern Germany, and the acid-tongued Mr. Bertram is its most popular moderator.

But instead of being treated to one of his biting interviews with the famous, fans were stunned by a rambling confession in which he acknowledged having been an informer for the East German secret police in the 1980s.

The confession was made after custodians of the vast secret police archive told Mr. Bertram's superiors that they had located card identifying him as an informer. He said he had long intended to confess his ties to the Stasi, as the secret police was known, but had never found the courage.

Although disclosures that prominent figures collaborated with the Stasi have become almost routine in eastern Germany, the case of Mr. Bertram, perhaps the region's best-loved radio and television personality, was nonetheless shocking.

It reminded Germans that millions of pages of Stasi records have not yet been reviewed and that more unpleasant surprises are likely when they are opened.

Mr. Bertram cultivated a reputation as witty, insightful and always ready to pose uncomfortable questions. He has described himself as "a kind of Robin Hood figure" who stands up for eastern interests.

On more than one occasion he argued bitterly with guests who admitted working for the Stasi but asserted that their work had harmed no one. In his televised confession, and later in a radio call-in show, Mr. Bertram gave few details of his activities as an informer.

He asked viewers and listeners to suggest how he could win back their trust, but none offered an answer.

Many callers said that they felt betrayed.

Officials in charge of the Stasi archive say they can find no files describing Mr. Bertram's activities. They assume that the files were among those destroyed by Stasi agents after East Germany began collapsing in 1989.

Like all employees at ORB and at many other public and private concerns in Germany, Mr. Bertram was asked before being hired whether he had maintained any contact with the Stasi. He swore he had not.

Last week, Mr. Bertram was dismissed.

"He misled and disappointed ORB, the people he interviewed, his listeners and me personally," said the station's director, Hansjurgen Rosenbauer.

Only slightly more than half of the station's 600 employees have been checked by custodians of the Stasi files. Seven have been found to have lied on their job applications, and they have either been dismissed or are facing disciplinary action.

The news about Mr. Bertram was still reverberating through eastern Germany when another prominent ORB personality, Jurgen Kuttner, confessed last week that he, too, had been a Stasi informer. He immediately resigned, but in an interview complained that much of the press and public was too quick to condemn everyone who had had even casual contact with the Stasi.

Leftist newspapers condemned the release of information about Bertram and Mr. Kuttner.

They endorsed a growing chorus of calls to close or limit access to Stasi files.

Neues Deutschland, the former mouthpiece of the East German Communist party, asserted that the disclosures were "not a coincidence, but rather part of a strategy aimed at portraying people who were prominent in East Germany as dubious and untrustworthy, so they can be fired and their jobs can be given to westerners."

Mr. Bertram said he had agreed to work for the Stasi as a way of obtaining a passport, a luxury that was denied to most East Germans. He said he had been desperate for a passport because he had wanted to consult western doctors about an eye disease that blinded him when he was in his 20s.

By the time Mr. Bertram finally obtained his passport and was able to travel westward, doctors told him that it was too late to save his sight.

In his televised confession, he said he blamed the East German government for allowing him to go blind.

"I lived with a kind of schizophrenia," he said. "I hated the state, but I served it anyway."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.