Book Review: The Race Against The Stasi – by Herbie Sykes
At school and at university, my history and economic history courses delved deep into the political, economic and social impact of the divisions between the communist bloc and the democratic west, during the Cold War period. However, what my studies never really touched on, was sport. So, when the 'Race Against The Stasi' was published earlier this year, I was sure it would be a compelling read.
The historical account follows the life of Dieter Wiedemann, a cycling hero from the GDR (East Germany). Dieter's biography: composed of quotes, news extracts and letters from his life, is a captivating account. It is story of ambition, success, challenge, and love.
The narrative begins with Dieter competing for the GDR, in amateur events such as the iconic Peace Race and Tours of the communist bloc countries. However, after realising the true extent of political influence, on his life and sport, Dieter eventually makes the life-changing decision to defect from East Germany. It is a decision spurred both by his desire to fulfil his sporting ambitions, but also to enable him to be with his life-long love, Sylvia.
It is indeed a compelling account; from both political, personal and sporting perspectives. The first-hand interviews with Dieter, Sylvia and other significant figures, are punctuated with newspaper extracts and Stasi evidence files. The profiles and first-hand accounts combine together, to give an in-depth and captivating story.
For a budding political historian, the book provides a great insight into the extent of communism's hold on GDR residents' lives during the Cold War. For a cycling enthusiast, it provides an interesting 'alternative' cycling history; profiling the less known races, which ran in-parallel to the headline western events like the Tour de France. For anyone simply looking for a great read… this is worth picking up.