Poisoned by East Germany – Seite 1

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Performance-enhancing drugs are taken all the time in sports. Everywhere. But the degree to which they were used in East Germany, at the behest of the state, is unmatched. Often unbeknownst to them, East German athletes were frequently given anabolic steroids, sex and growth hormones and extreme doses of pain medication. For many of those affected, severe health consequences have been the result, some of which are only now making themselves felt. They include heart disease, kidney complications, skin troubles and problems with bones and sex organs. Some suffer from depression and eating disorders or are traumatized. But the issue is hardly ever spoken about: The victims are reticent and those responsible remain silent.

After extensive reporting and numerous efforts to contact victims, five people agreed to talk with ZEIT ONLINE about doping in East Germany. They include a female discus thrower who never found her way to the very top during her career and is seriously ill today; the daughter of an East German canoe racer who believes she too suffers from the performance-enhancing drugs taken by her mother; a handball player from the top East German league, who is one of the few men willing to talk about his health problems; a gymnast who was not only administered performance-enhancing drugs, but also experienced other forms of abuse; and finally, a coach who regrets what she did back then but who also sees herself as a victim. Together, their stories provide a comprehensive look at how the East German doping system worked. And what the consequences continue to be today.

With additional reporting by Stefanie Sippel

Katja Hofmann, 44, Discus Thrower, Dynamo Berlin

I enjoy life, but I know that I won't grow to be very old. I have an incurable illness. If I were to list all my health problems using just keywords, it would take several minutes. Multiple times each week, I go to the doctor and to physical and occupational therapy. I take around 10 pills each day. Unfortunately, my body doesn't tolerate pain medication, so I have to make due without. Pain is my constant companion during the day and wakes me up in the night. Sometimes, it becomes so intense that I have to vomit.

I am actually quite a cheerful person and I try to stay in a good mood. But every week, I suffer from at least one panic attack. It can happen anywhere: in crowds, on the commuter train. My last really bad panic attack happened a few months ago. I was at the cinema watching a movie with my foster child, and as we were leaving the theater, I suddenly couldn't breathe anymore, and my heart started racing. I thought I was going to fall over dead. My child stood completely helplessly next to me. I was lucky because a passerby took care of both of us until I recovered.

As a young woman in East Germany, I participated in high-level competitive sports. I was a discus thrower for the sports club Spartakiade 1989 in East Berlin and was the fourth best in the country in my age group. Today, few recognize my name because I never took part in the Olympics and I stopped throwing a long time ago. But my sporting career has followed me, because as I know now, I was given performance-enhancing drugs. Without my knowledge. Again and again. For years.

Katja Hofmann is sitting in a café in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin with a friendly smile on her face. She is very ill. But she's not the only former East German athlete in such poor health. She was doped as a minor without her knowledge. Experts believe that between 10,000 and 15,000 athletes were likewise given performance-enhancing drugs by the regime. In comparison to the rest of the population, doping victims die on average 10 to 12 years earlier and are at a 2.7-times greater risk of falling seriously ill than the general population. Often, these people are not known to the public at large because only very few of them pursued successful sporting careers.

We were guinea pigs.

Katja Hofmann, 44

In my sports club in Berlin, I would be given packets of powder. I was 13 or 14 years old the first time. The word Dynvital was on the label. I had no choice but to swallow it. My coach told me they were vitamins. She made sure that I always took it and acted as though she was doing me a favor. I trusted her, but she deceived me. I also know that she was only at the very end of the chain of command.

I would love to talk to her today, but I'm not ready for it yet. I also think that she wouldn't want to.

Katja Hofmann's mother saved this old packet of Dynvital, labeled as vitamins. © privat

My mother saved a packet of Dynvital. She wouldn't let anyone touch it; she wanted to save it as evidence.

I loved my sport. As a child, I had an idol. Ulf Timmermann was my role model, and, of course, Katarina Witt. I still have an autograph from her. "We are better than the West," we were always told. It was also constantly said in East German sports that: "Individuals don't matter." We were guinea pigs.

Unable to Travel

I have to live with the consequences today. I would love to work. Up until three years ago, I was still able to work 10 hours a week as an assistant at a medical practice. Now, I can't even do that, and I've been a housewife since February 2015. Even then, I am quickly overcome by fatigue and can hardly concentrate. Just about any kind of housework makes my hands hurt.

I am homosexual. That's not a problem as such, nor is it an issue for my family and friends. But I still wonder if I might have loved men if I had never been given that powder back then.

© Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images

The life expectancy of East German doping victims is reduced by up to 12 years

The substances female athletes were forced to take made many of them more masculine. Their voices became deeper, hair began growing in unusual places, their muscles grew and their sex organs either shriveled or grew rapidly. Such changes to the body can lead to changes in identity, including one's psychosexual identity.

My illnesses place severe limits on my day-to-day life. Years ago, I flew to Madeira on vacation. That was risky. Because of my blood-clotting disorder and the risk of getting thrombosis, I'm no longer able to take long flights. So, before takeoff, I injected a medication, but the pain during the flight and afterward was still extremely bad.

Isn't it weird? The wall has been gone for more than a quarter century, but East Germany has managed to limit my ability to travel even today.

Katja Hofmann in 1987. © privat

I don't get much help from politicians. But the state should take responsibility and grant us all a special pension. The state, after all, abused our bodies and our souls. We aren't to blame for our fates. It's not normal that you have to constantly go to the doctor in your early 40s like others do when they turn 70 or 80.

The East German doping system was characterized by bureaucracy. It was controlled by the East German secret police, the Stasi, and at its peak, around 3,000 spies were active in the sporting world. The athletes were seen as products "of a real socialist community project." Scientific institutions were directly involved in the system, including the secret Research Institute for Physical Education and Sports Leipzig and the pharmaceutical industry, led by the state-run company Jenapharm, which produced the so-called "blue miracle pill" (Oral Turinabol), an anabolic steroid. Sports groups such as the German Gymnastics and Sports Federation, the National Olympic Committee and the Sports Medicine Service were also involved. The central doping laboratory in Kreischa tested the athletes for one reason only: to ensure that they didn't fail drug tests during competitions abroad. The Health Ministry held political responsibility.

The Stasi left behind plenty of written evidence. This is an excerpt from a 1985 document that makes it clear that those responsible were aware of the potential long-term consequences.

State Commissioner for Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic

"In conversation, the IMB (Eds. note: informant) made clear that for several years, he has been administering the preparation STS (steroid substance) to the athletes without it ever having been evaluated in accordance with pharmaceutical law.
The preparation in question was developed exclusively for sports and exhibits a weaker effect than the more frequently used Oral-Turinabol.
STS does not produce such manifest physical transformations, but it also doesn't achieve the same results in competition.
Its application takes place under the individual responsibility of the IMB, without knowledge regarding the possible side effects the athletes may experience in 10 or 20 years.
Meeting report IMB "Technik," Nov. 28, 1985"


When I tell my story, I am often confronted with a lack of understanding. Just a few years ago, I went to a doctor in Berlin to get a report that would help me be officially recognized as a doping victim. But he refused to examine me and sent me away. Later, I learned that he had been a sports doctor in East Germany. Sometimes, it seems like I am being victimized a second time today.

The illnesses, the constant pain and the perpetual threat of deadly complications are my steady companions. But I don't want to think about the future, I just want to live. I have known for around 20 years that I am seriously ill, but I have learned to deal with it. My 11-year-old child is my only solace but is likewise chronically ill. I welcome the responsibility of raising a child. It gives me courage and hope that my life won't get even worse.

The Daughter

Doping in East Germany - »We Were Told They Were Vitamin Supplements« As a young woman, Petra Ostrowski belonged to the canoe division of a Berlin sports club. Unbeknownst to her, she was given performance enhancing drugs. She's a victim of systemic GDR doping and she feels abandoned. © Foto: Christiane Wittenbecher for ZEIT ONLINE

Mercedes Ostrowski, 17, Daughter of Canoe Racer Petra Ostrowski, 53

East German doping has also affected some children of former athletes; they are referred to as second-generation victims. Some researchers doubt that such a thing is possible, except in cases in which the doping occurred during pregnancy. But psychiatrist Harald Freyberger, who has conducted extensive research into the long-term effects of the East German doping system and other, similar victim groups, says that it is possible to pass down physical and psychological symptoms to children.

Mercedes Ostrowski lives with many uncertainties: Does the hair growth she gets in unusual places have to do with the fact that her mother Petra Ostrowski was given performance-enhancing drugs as a child? And if so, what might that mean for her life in the future? She is sitting on the bed in her room in the apartment she shares with her mother, located southeast of Berlin. She speaks openly and maturely about her concerns.

I have to shave in places where most women don't experience hair growth. I am ashamed to be with a boy. I am also afraid that I might be infertile or will become so. But I want to be a mother someday. I am being treated, but the doctors don't know exactly what consequences my mother's doping might have for me. We also don't know what all she was given. What I do know, however, is that my mother and I are suffering.

I didn't experience East Germany.
Mercedes Ostrowski, 17

My mother often talks about what it was like back then. She was a canoe racer in a sports club in East Berlin. She was quite good. They gave her pills to take, but she didn't know what was in them. And then one day, she collapsed. She was 13 years old at the time.

My mother blames herself and I have to comfort her. I always tell her that she's not to blame. The issue of doping dominates our lives, but it also binds us closely together. She also lost a child. Her first daughter, Melina, died at age 10, that was in 1997. She was extremely sick from birth.

© Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images

Victims of East German doping fall ill 2,7 times more often
than the average population. Their risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease or cancer is up to five-times higher.

We love the water. There are a lot of lakes where we live, and we can see one from our balcony. We can almost jump into it. I often go canoeing with my mother and my friends. My mother likes the sound of the waves slapping against the boat.

I didn't experience East Germany. Sports were synonymous with politics, everything was politics in East Germany. The rights of individuals were unimportant. All that has since been suppressed and those responsible don't pay the consequences. We learn about East Germany in school. But we don't learn about what this dictatorship did to the people. When we talk about it in class, many of my classmates sugarcoat the East German regime, as do the teachers frequently. I always voice my opinion.

(Since our interview, Mercedes Ostrowski has turned 18.)

As a result of the circumstances described, xxxx has decided to cease high-level competitive sports following the Summer Olympics so that, as she said, she wouldn't one day look like the Dynamo athlete xxxx. Thereupon, the TSC club leadership presented her with the choice to either continue with high-level competitive sports or face the revocation of all further support, also with respect to her high school graduation in two years.
Meeting report IMB "Technik," Aug. 4, 1976 This Stasi document proves that athletes were coerced and forced to take part.

State Commissioner for Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic

"As a result of the circumstances described, xxxx has decided to cease high-level competitive sports following the Summer Olympics so that, as she said, she wouldn't one day look like the Dynamo athlete xxxx. Thereupon, the TSC club leadership presented her with the choice to either continue with high-level competitive sports or face the revocation of all further support, also with respect to her high school graduation in two years.
Meeting report IMB "Technik," Aug. 4, 1976"

The Handball Player

"I live in agony," former handball player Frank Hellmuth says today. © Jacobia Dahm für ZEIT ONLINE

Frank Hellmuth, Handball Player, 57, Dynamo Berlin

I was a handball player and I joined SC Dynamo Berlin when I was 19 after playing for Motor Köthen and Halle-Neustadt. It was the club of the East German People's Police and the Stasi. From 1984 to 1986, I played in the East German top division and also took part in the European Championships. In East Germany, we were the hated police club, and the smaller teams made sure we were aware of that. In towns like Aue or Eisenach, spectators would sometimes try to trip us with umbrellas as we ran. After one game in Eisenach, our bus was only able to leave the parking lot with a police escort. As a left-hander, I played in the back-right or on the right wing. I relied on my strong throwing arm. It was a wonderful time.

In East Germany, Olympic medals were state objectives, with the small country winning a total of 755 of them. Stasi files document the systematic administration of performance-enhancing drugs in that pursuit. State Plan 14.25 from 1974, approved by the Central Committee of the SED, the East German Communist Party, contained a secret and comprehensive doping program. Officially, they were referred to as "supportive remedies," but those responsible knew they were violating not just anti-doping rules in sports, but also East Germany's own strict laws on medications. They were also aware of the harm that they were doing. Some coaches and doctors even doped their protegés over and above the amount that had been ordered. It was a compulsory system, and those who didn’t go along with it were eliminated.

I'm 57 today, and I live in agony. I've had five knee operations, my spinal column is damaged, I've had no feeling in my left leg since surgery on a disc and my joints are worn-out. When all these health problems began quite some time ago, I thought: OK, handball is a tough sport and I was often injured. Of course, your bones were going to hurt later.

But there was, and still is, much more to it. Acute hearing loss, tinnitus and then a testicular cancer diagnosis in 2006 followed by prostate cancer in 2016. I've had to have multiple operations and undergo radiotherapy. I'm a prisoner to cancer.

It's not just my body. I often can't recognize myself anymore. I can't sleep, I have frequent serious panic attacks, I have trouble driving a car and I can barely work. I'm constantly having to negotiate with my employer because I'm too weak for some of the tasks my job entails, and I can only work for two hours at a time. I'm able to manage with medication, but I get easily irritated, which didn't used to be the case. Sometimes, I'm doing well – and then suddenly I'll get sad.

Why didn't you guys ask me back then?
Frank Hellmuth, 57

I know it's all connected to handball. I can still remember it very well. Whenever I or my fellow teammates had a cold or trained more intensely, we were given injections. In addition, we were also regularly given Dynvital, a powder to supplement our diets. I also remember some blue pills. It was never clear to me that these treatments could somehow be related to doping. I wondered about it, but I always trusted the doctors, who said they were vitamins.

Then, two years ago, I was informed about East Germany's compulsory doping program at an event held by an organization that aids doping victims. Since then, I have known that I am a victim and that I need help.

The Doping Victims' Aid Association of Berlin helps connect the victims with therapists and doctors and provides them with information. The group is headed by writer and professor Ines Geipel. The former East German track-and-field athlete's world record in the 4x100 meter relay was ultimately stricken from the record books because it was achieved with the help of doping. "My record was criminal," she says looking back.

I kept going to the annual Dynamo get-togethers until a few years ago. The people who go say they knew nothing. But they must have been aware of everything that was going on. What makes me angry and what I would like to say to the doctors, the coaches and the officials is this: Why didn't you ask me at the time? Then I could have decided for myself if I wanted to go along with it or not.

Not too long ago, I spoke to a friend, a rower, about sports and doping. He said that medals are more important than the truth. There are a lot of people who try to whitewash their lives. Basically, I feel sorry for them.

Battling an Invisible Enemy

Frank Hellmuth in autumn 2017 at the Lustgarten in Berlin © Jacobia Dahm für ZEIT ONLINE

I have moments when my old optimism returns. I have the support of my wife. I have two children and my daughter got married. I'm a grandpa. It's nice. I don't play handball anymore, but I do exercise to keep my illnesses from getting worse. I want to deal with them rationally, to understand them and talk about them.

Before our meeting at a restaurant at Berlin's Hackescher Markt, Frank Hellmuth said on the telephone that it would be difficult for him to discuss his illnesses and his past in sports. He said he couldn't concentrate for longer than an hour at a time. But the interview lasts three hours and he refuses all offers to bring our discussion to a close. He says the next day that even though it took a lot of his energy, it was good for him.

There is something inside of me and I need to get it out. At the beginning, that was a massive hurdle – first I had to admit it to myself and then to others. It was a long journey, telling others about my testicular cancer. It infringed on my sense of self-worth. But I'm not blaming anybody. I am the kind of man who tends to deal with things on his own. I will be fighting against an invisible enemy for the rest of my life.

The Gymnast

Former gymnast Susann Scheller in front of a café in Hamburg's St. Pauli district. "Some of our coaches were Sadists." © Paula Markert für ZEIT ONLINE

Susann Scheller, 45, Rhythmic Gymnast

A short time ago, I found old letters from a friend who was in my training group. She used to be a good athlete, but then she became depressed and weak. She died on new year's eve of 1992 at the age of 19. It's not known what caused her death. The doctors said she had the heart of an 80-year-old. Her letters showed a person who was full of fear and desperation and was also suicidal. I cried a lot when I read the letters because I could recognize myself in them.

When I was in my early 20s, I was going through the same things she was. I was a gymnast in East Germany. You got started very early; I moved away from home when I was nine – from Potsdam to a base in Halle before moving to the national team in Leipzig. I was good and landed a spot on the national team at 15. When I look at the old photos, they sometimes make me cry. We were children, but the looks in our eyes weren't those of children.

Susann Scheller was wounded as a child and, like many other in her earlier training group, she still feels those wounds as a woman. She has reconstructed the details of her past when she was active in the sport and it's something she could spend days talking about. This has made her a kind of spokesperson for the former gymnasts. She has looked into the documents and the archives and has confronted the men and women who knew about it at the time – the perpetrators and those responsible at sports federations – with the information she has compiled. She shows pictures on her mobile phone, showing her doing her freestyle program on the mat or standing on the podium. The photos make it clear that the girls were emaciated, their faces were mostly sad and pale, their gazes cast downward.

Sports are supposed to be fun, but it was torture. We had to practice until we dropped, up to four times a day. We sometimes intentionally injured ourselves so that we could get a day off. I remember hitting the fingers of one fellow athlete repeatedly with a bottle. In the winter, we often stood naked in front of an open window with wet hair so that we would catch a cold.

We were completely controlled.
Susann Scheller, 45

Some of our coaches were Sadists. One always had us draw a number to determine which exercise we had to do. A girlfriend of mine always, and I mean always, drew the same number – the one corresponding to the most strenuous exercise. The truth is that there was probably only one number. It was fixed.

When we were allowed to go home once every two or three weeks, practice would often go long and we would have to run to catch the train. Sometimes, we would miss it and we would have to wait for four hours at an unfamiliar train station. Eleven-year-olds, freezing and hungry. At times, I didn't have any money to call home or the phone wasn't working. My parents would wait at the train station in vain, worrying. I still don't like traveling by train today.

Susann Scheller, like Katja Hofmann, Petra Ostrowski and Frank Hellmuth, has been officially recognized as a victim of doping. To obtain this status, the athletes had to prove that there was a probable causal link between their illnesses and doping. A law passed in June 2016, which established a fund for doping victims, provided a one-time payment to doping victims of 10,500 euros. But experts consider that amount to be too low and are calling for victims to be provided with a permanent pension. In a first law to help doping victims, passed in June 2002, the German government set up a 2 million-euro fund that was used to make payments to 194 victims. Last year, the federal government rejected calls to provide assistence to the offspring of the athletes who have also been affected by the doping.

And then there was the eating issue. Weight is key in our sport. Anyone who weighed just 200 grams too much would get yelled at. At times, we were forbidden from eating anything, at others, we were forced to. I still remember a girl from my group having her mouth forced open and stuffed with food. We were driven into anorexia. 

We were under their complete control. We were given injections and medications whether we were ill or not. Vitamins, we were told. But, of course, it was something else. They also must have included painkillers, because on the free weekends when I didn't take any pills, I experienced a lot of pain.

Painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen were frequently administered in excessive dosages to athletes in East Germany, often prophylactically. The practice improved performance, but it impaired the young athletes' ability to discern physical problems. And the list of possible side effects and long-term consequences is long: liver damage, kidney damage, headaches, fatigue, exhaustion, heart attacks and strokes.

Trauma in the Training Camp

I quit the sport at 16 after suffering from an enlarged heart and cardiac arrhythmia. I just couldn't do it anymore.

My place of trauma is Zinnowitz. For tourists, it’s a resort on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom. For me it was hell, a six-week training camp. We had even less protection against the harassment there. The pills were set out each morning next to our breakfast plates. Sometimes we were able to throw them away, but most of the times we had to swallow them.

If we went for a morning walk along the beach, the coach would order us to go for a swim in the sea. We stripped naked. Others would tell me later that a man from medical support would sometimes stand and secretly watch from behind the dunes. In the evenings, he would order us to come to him, one at a time. I didn't know why at the time; after all, I didn't have any medical complaints. I can still remember the exact path through the dark gymnasium to get to his room. Then I was alone with him. I had to take everything off, except my underwear.

I don't remember what happened after that – it's covered by a veil. I don't know whether you would call it sexual abuse, but I don't really care. All I know is that it still troubles me very much to this day.

Performance-enhancing drugs can impair brain and memory function, especially when they are administered to young people. Shame and feelings of guilt also impede memory. Some doping victims have difficulty reconstructing their life history. The account given by Susann Schell at a café in St. Pauli shows that she has a sense for the finer nuances in the quest for truth: What is certainty and what is assumption? What is proof and what is just an indication? How reliable is memory? In a television documentary, a gymnast who used to train with Susann Scheller in Zinnowitz also spoke about doping, psychological pressure and sexual abuse. The doctor who was in charge at the time denied the allegations made in the documentary.

"You have post-traumatic stress disorder." That's what someone who is familiar with the disorder told me two years ago. He could see it in me. He opened my eyes and triggered something inside of me. Since then, I've been uncovering my past, one layer at a time.

Without that trigger from the outside, I wouldn't have remembered anything. My memories have been overlaid by the exhaustion I experienced back then. In conversations with athletes I used to train with, we are now reconstructing what was done to us. I can see the pills in my hands. I can also see the tree where we sometimes threw them away. I can't remember where the pills came from, but perhaps I will be able to one day.

Remembering and Speaking

Susann Scheller, who lives in Hamburg, says: "The worst thing remains the feeling of having been abandoned as a child." © Paula Markert für ZEIT ONLINE

When I learned two years ago that I'm a victim of doping, I became obsessed with researching it. I slept very little for four weeks and sat in front of my computer screen reading everything I could find on the topic. I created WhatsApp groups with my friends from gymnastics and spoke on the phone to journalists and researchers – and with the people at the Doping Victims' Aid Association. They helped me a lot. The sporting federations, on the other hand, weren't interested in my story at all, although I asked them for help for quite some time.

Gymnasts can be divas – they need attention from others. Now we're joining forces. Even though we haven't seen each other in decades in some cases, we are now finding out together that we lead similar lives and that we almost all share the same problems. It makes a lot of things easier when you know that you're not alone. When the whole group met up last summer, we sent a picture to our coach where we were all flipping her off. Now, we want to find out who did this to us and who gave us what drugs.

At the Public Health Office in Leipzig, Susann Scheller's group found a document that proves that she was given injections of Actovegin, an extraction obtained from calf blood, when she was 16. It's the same agent once used by cycling professional Lance Armstrong and it's also something that FC Bayern's controversial team doctor Heinz-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt has worked with in the past. Actovegin is not authorized for use as a medication in Germany. Also included in the document was a reference to "oxygen multistep therapy," a treatment from alternative medicine that involves exposing the blood to ultraviolet irradiation, which can damage the immune system.

"I have the right to be very sad."
Susann Scheller, 45

I have since told many other people about my career in sports and about my illnesses – on radio and television. Newspapers have also written about me. It was difficult, but also liberating. It was important to break the silence. I'm not just doing this for myself, but also for those who are unable to.

I used to tell myself it was my fault and I was ashamed for a long time. Now I know I don't need to feel ashamed. I was exploited. And abused by our coaches and doctors on behalf of the state, East Germany. They also did it for themselves. They used us as proxies for dealing with their own issues. But we're not to blame for what happened to us and we expect an apology.

I sometimes get extremely angry about the fact that I was doped and am sick now. But I deal with it. The worst thing remains the feeling of having been abandoned as a child. I have the right to be very sad.

The Coach

Former East German national team coach for rhythmic gymnastics Elke Stange-Schrempf in a park in the Bad Cannstatt district of Stuttgart © Sebastian Berger für ZEIT ONLINE

Elke Stange-Schrempf, 62, Coach

I have a recurring nightmare, it is set in the past: I'm still a coach and I approach my girls who are standing in a row on the mat. I want to greet them, but they refuse to shake my hand. All of them, one after the other.

I suffer from depression; I am psychologically broken. I have been in therapy for years and suffer from back pain and stomach problems. But the greatest suffering I experience is the pain of my girls. I'm not worried about myself, I'm worried about them.

When I say, "my girls," I'm referring to my gymnasts. In East Germany, I was a national team coach in Leipzig. I enjoyed it, and, from a purely sporting perspective, I was surely a good coach.

I bear a huge amount of guilt.
Elke Stange-Schrempf, 62

Former gymnast Susann Scheller has arranged the meeting with Elke Stange-Schrempf in Stuttgart and is also present. Stange-Schrempf is one of her former coaches, one of the more understanding ones she had, Scheller says, not one of those to whom she would like to send a picture of an extended middle finger. Scheller says it was like a liberation when she transferred from Halle to Stange-Schrempf in Leipzig. Still, she says, the coach is a representative of the former system.

Yes, I bear a huge amount of guilt because I was part of a system that brought significant suffering to many. I never took a close look, I never questioned. I should have seen what was happening, what the doctors or other coaches were doing with my girls. I should have protected them from so much. They were so young.

But my job as coach was more important to me. I was more important to me. I didn't care about anything else. I can't forgive myself for that. I am partly responsible, even if I myself never hurt or wanted to hurt anybody. I never gave my girls anything, no pills, tablets or injections.

Stange-Schrempf says she never gave her athletes performance-enhancing drugs and knew nothing about the doping. Some sports historians think it is hardly possible that a coach at her level wasn't involved in the system, in which at least 400 doctors, coaches and functionaries participated. The vast majority of East German coaches, however, are unwilling to respond to accusations of doping or they deny the problem.

Perpetrator and Victim

I was a victim myself. As a small child, I was a gymnast and as a teenager, my coach sent me to a weight-loss camp. I wasn't sick, but I was supposed to lose weight. I received infusions and at mealtimes there was only soup. After six weeks, my weight had dropped from 50 kilograms to 42. And I had three stomach ulcers. My mother was furious, and she forbade my brother from participating in sports. "I don't want to lose another child," she said.

It may sound strange, but I actually enjoyed life in East Germany, even if our apartment was bugged and my love letters were opened. And despite everything, sports were always important to me. But when I look back on everything, it had nothing to do with humanity or with the reasons why you value sports and participate in them.

As this document shows, the Stasi knew back in 1977 that anabolic steroids had side effects.

State Commissioner for Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic

"Last week, the track-and-field athlete xxxx from SC xxx Leipzig, was checked into the Erlabrunn Hospital on suspicions of hepatitis.
The examining doctor determined that the liver failure observed was the result of the ingestion of anabolic steroids. According to G.'s statement, she has been taking anabolic steroids since January and also specified the precise dose.Meeting report IMB "Technik," April 25, 1977"

Ultimately, East German sports were a vast lie. I remember with disgust an incident in Kienbaum. We were 15 at the time. There was a directive for our group: We were to go into the sauna with a high-ranking sports functionary. Another example: It was just a couple of days before the 1987 world championships in Bulgaria, and after six weeks of training -- I was a coach at the time -- we were suddenly told we wouldn't be attending, allegedly because of a tiny error in our routine. Presumably, though, there had been a positive doping test during an internal check and they didn't want to risk being discovered in Bulgaria.

Primary responsibility for the doping system is born by Manfred Ewald, who was president of the German Gymnastics and Sports Federation and the most powerful sports functionary in East Germany. In the trials that took place in Berlin in 2000, Ewald was found guilty on 20 counts of aiding and abetting bodily injury and issued a suspended sentence. A doctor formerly with Dynamo Berlin was also found guilty in the court proceedings. Today, he works for a Red Bull training center in Austria.

I would like to ask everyone for forgiveness.
Elke Stange-Schrempf, 62

The memories weigh on me even today. I haven't been happy for a long time, even though I have a loving husband. I live a life of uncertainty. A few months ago, we drove to the gym. When I saw it from afar, I had trouble breathing and was gripped by anxiety. I thought my heart would stop. I had to stop the car and get out. A typical occurrence.

Elke Stange-Schrempf with her former gymnast Susann Scheller: "I am extremely thankful to Susann that she still speaks to me." © Sebastian Berger für ZEIT ONLINE

The meeting between the former coach and the former gymnast lasted for several hours, though it wasn't the first such encounter. Sometimes, the two would start chatting about old times. Then it suddenly become clear that Stange-Schrempf wanted to unburden herself; that she wanted to talk about her guilt. She began speaking hesitantly and pressed her thumb and forefinger so tightly together that her nails turned white. She swallowed hard and tears flowed several times.

I am extremely grateful to Susann that she still speaks to me. I would understand if she decided not to. I asked her to forgive me. She accepted my apology. It was good for me to see her and talk to her and with the others. I want to ask all of them for forgiveness and tell them that one question will plague me until the end of my life: How could I have failed to notice something back then?

Doping in East Germany - The Forgotten Victims ZEIT ONLINE reporter Oliver Fritsch comments in a video op-ed on the treatment of East German doping victims. © Foto: Claudia Bracholdt

Translated from German by Charles Hawley and Daryl Lindsey