Never Say You're Sorry: Exclusive: His Career Unharmed, a Top Politician Tells about His Affair with an East German 'spy.'(Karsten Voigt, Brigitta Richter)
Nagorski, Andrew, Watson, Russell, Newsweek
Exclusive: his career unharmed, a top politician tells about his affair with an East German 'spy'
IT'S A COLD-WAR LOVE STORY, WITH A happy ending worthy of the new world order. In 1987, a prominent West German politician meets and quickly falls in love with an East German woman. He is married; she is 15 years his junior and a dedicated communist. The Stasi, East Germany's dreaded secret police, pressure her to talk about him. After Germany is reunitied, he discovers her connection to the Stasi and breaks off the affair. But they still have feelings for each other. In 1995, he gets a divorce from his wife and marries his mistress. Naturally, they have to endure a certain amount of scandal. MARRIAGE TO HIS STASI SPY, says one of the more hurtful headlines. But Germany is not America, where even a whiff of adultery can damage a political career or destroy a military one.
"In Germany, you can still keep your private life separate from your public life," Karsten Voigt, now 56, said in a recent interview with NEWSWEEK, describing his romance with his new wife, Brigitta, 41, in more detail than he has ever revealed before. German press interest in their love story has flagged, in part because they refused to talk about it. But it's a timely tale, showing how sex and spying were intertwined in the divided Germany. The country is just now digesting the recently published memoirs of Markus Wolf, the former East German spymaster who was notorious for using sex as a tool of espionage.
And Karsten Voigt is not just any German politician. A member of the lower house of Parliament since 1976, he is a leading authority on defense and foreign-policy issues in the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD). He insists that Brigitta gave the Stasi nothing of value. "She couldn't tell them anything serious, because I didn't tell her serious things," he says. But the taint of her association with the Stasi lingers, and unlike her husband, Brigitta bitterly refuses to discuss their romance. "If you ask me in 10 years," she says, "perhaps I'll agree." For now, she works as a freelance journalist and dabbles in politics, and she and her husband are expecting a baby, the first child for either of them.
They met in West Berlin, at an Aspen Institute conference. Voigt was a polished, conspicuously self-assured man, a political moderate and a favorite of journalists and American diplomats. Brigitta Richter hardly looked like a temptress. She was a disarmament specialist for Horizont, East Germany's foreign-policy weekly. Her black hair was cropped short, her clothes were plain, and she wore little or no makeup.
But Voigt was attracted. He recalls that she was young, intelligent and surprisingly critical of East Germany's sclerotic leaders. She was "very spontaneous, which was not typical" of the dogmatic East German women he met at official functions. Richter was clearly a committed communist; otherwise, she would not have had the rare privilege of frequent visits to West Berlin. Yet she was open to new ideas and refreshingly casual in manner. Karsten was married to an architect named Inge, but after 13 years the relationship had gone stale.
Voigt and Richter met several times in West Berlin, and then, as their romance blossomed, on his trips to East Germany. But someone was watching. In early 1988, Voigt recounts, the Stasi visited Brigitta. "You're getting a visit tomorrow from Karsten Voigt," one of them said. The policemen told her they wanted to talk to her after such visits. She agreed. Years later, Voigt says, she explained why she cooperated with the Stasi, and why she kept him in the dark. …