Ex-East German spy chief dies

Dubbed “The Man Without a Face” because Western intelligence services lacked even a picture of him, Mr Wolf directed one of the world’s most formidable espionage networks for nearly three decades.

He died in his sleep overnight at his home, his daughter-in-law said, on the 17th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A legend in his own lifetime, Mr Wolf successfully ran more than 4,000 spies across the Iron Curtain during his tenure at the foreign intelligence division of the Stasi secret police from 1958 to 1987, infiltrating countless “moles” deep into the West German government administration.

One of them, Guenter Guillaume, caused the downfall of Chancellor Willy Brandt.

Mr Wolf even recruited the head of West German counter-espionage, Hans-Joachim Tiedge, as a double agent.

His spies were said to be so effective that the East German head of state Erich Honecker regularly got to read the weekly intelligence digest of West German espionage before the West German chancellor.

Former East German dissidents said they would shed no tears for the man who reputedly inspired the Machiavellian East German spy chief in John Le Carre’s novel “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”.

“I do not have a high opinion of him,” conservative pastor Rainer Eppelmann said.

Lothar Bisky, the head of the former communist Left Party, said he embodied the extremes of the turbulent 20th century.

“He was a fighter against the Nazi regime, head of intelligence for state security and a writer — in other words, full of contradictions,” he said.

Known by the Russian nickname of “Misha”, Wolf charmed many of those who had sworn bitter hatred of him.

‘The Paul Newman of spying’

Tall, dressed in elegant Western-style suits and wire-framed glasses and good-looking, Wolf was dubbed “the Paul Newman of spying” by the West German tabloid press. He married three times.

Mr Wolf was born in 1923 in Hechingen, western Germany. His father Friedrich was a well-known Jewish communist writer, and his brother Konrad became a famous film director.

Fearing Nazi persecution, the family fled to the Soviet Union in 1934, where they stayed for the next 11 years. He had hoped to study aircraft engineering, but in 1945 was sent by the Communist Party to work in radio in Berlin.

Mr Wolf covered the Nuremberg Trials of top Nazis on war crimes charges for two years before becoming an assiduous servant of the East German state, which was founded in 1949.

He worked in its Moscow embassy for two years as first counsellor before returning to build up the espionage service.

Mr Wolf left his post for “personal reasons” in 1987, and became a public critic of state leader Mr Honecker during the momentous months of 1989.

Mr Wolf backed the pro-Gorbachev moderates who hoped to reform the system without scrapping it.

But on September 30, 1990, three days before reunification went into effect with the extension of federal German law to the east of the country, he used his Soviet passport and rank of Red Army colonel to flee to Moscow.

Wanted by federal German authorities, Mr Wolf later offered his services, proposing to help them track down hidden “moles” and solve riddles of the past in exchange for his return and an amnesty.

The offer was never taken up, but Mr Wolf eventually decided to return and was arrested and put on trial in Duesseldorf.

He was sentenced in 1993 to six years in prison for high treason, which Mr Wolf blasted as a case of victor’s justice.

“I have been convicted because the German Democratic Republic existed for 40 years and those who put on such shows, based on their ideas of politics and justice, disagree with that,” he said at the end of the trial.

In a landmark decision, the country’s top court overturned the conviction, ruling that East German spies could not be prosecuted.

In later years, Mr Wolf became a top-selling author, releasing his memoirs under the title “The Man Without a Face” and a blend of recipes and anecdotes called “Secrets of the Russian Kitchen”