THE RACE AGAINST THE STASI

Author : Herbie Sykes
Published by : Aurum Press 2014
399 pgs including photographs

Hardback £18.99

ISBN 978 1 78131 308 4

 

Harry Lime meets cycle sport might be going a bit far, but this gripping book was as un- put-downable as the best espionage novels. Set against the background of cold war Germany, this is the real life story of Dieter Wiedemann and his family. As he becomes an ever more successful cyclist in the emerging East Germany, the regime, set on creating a new communist Germany under the heavy hand of the USSR, becomes ever more oppressive.

 

With sport expected to show the growing superiority of communist society over the decadent western democracies, and cycling races amongst the most popular sporting events in the calendar, it is inevitable that Dieter would have to make some tough decisions that will have ramifications not just for him but for his brother, father and mother. Love, desire for sporting success, sacrifice, a battle for liberty, all are mixed in this tale of ordinary people caught up in momentous events and the awful consequences for all of them.

 

Even better, it is all the result of detailed research; it is all as close as we can expect to the truth. The Peace Race was one of the great cycle races of the era; Tave Schur was the pin-up boy of East German sport and, therefore, of the government; Dieter Wiedemann worked his way up to be amongst the best German cyclists of the nineteen-sixties; the Stasi, as one would expect, looked and listened to everything through a frightening network of informants. This is social and sporting history at its most fascinating and chilling.

Reviewed by Steve Dyster

......... flows as if it were a novel ..... an amazing achievement.

Herbie Sykes eventually persuaded Dieter Wiedemann to tell him his story, something he’d been reluctant to do, indeed Wiedemann comes over as reticent, intelligent, determined and, as his Stasi file noted, as someone who was, by nature, quiet and discrete. The author also interviewed Wiedemann’s surviving family, friends and cycling acquaintances and spent weeks in archives searching through newspapers and Stasi files. Putting all this into a coherent read has been accomplished with imagination and aplomb.

 

The complex mix of personal life, a sporting career, political manipulation, post-war and cold war international relations in a country intent on controlling every aspect of life, is presented as a series of short extracts from interviews. Amongst these are interspersed newspaper cuttings and extracts from STASI files. That this mix flows as if it were a novel whilst allowing people to speak in their own words and not leave the reader confused is an amazing achievement. The inclusion of extracts from the Stasi files without comment by the author allows the petrifying activities of the notorious political police to ambush the reader by contrast to the sporting and domestic scenes often evoked by the interviewees. An immensely enjoyable and endlessly fascinating read, I have the feeling that even more will be revealed on second reading.

 

This isn’t a book about cycle touring and glimpses into broader cycling culture are few, but as social history, an insight into life behind the iron curtain and a dramatic personal story set against the history of one of the world’s greatest races this is magnificent.

 

“The Race Against the Stasi” made the shortlist of the 2014 SweetSpot Cycling Book of the Year. 

 

www.aurumpress.co.uk

REVIEW FIRST PUBLISHED 2014

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