YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

A Wolf in Chef's Clothings : Out of the Cold, Into the Kitchen : Ex-Spymaster Exposes "The Secrets of Russian Cooking"


BERLIN — So, "The Man Without a Face" turns out to be quite a genial chap after all, not a shadowy super-spook with a rain-flecked trench coat and an exploding briefcase but a jolly bon vivant with the usual component of eyes, nose and mouth--and a few well-informed ideas about Russian cooking.

Culinary success "depends, above all, on one's ability to communicate with other people, to let one's self be inspired by other people, or to pull them under one's spell," writes Markus Wolf in the introduction to his new cookbook, "The Secrets of Russian Cooking."

Markus Wolf. Wasn't he. . . ?

Yes. In one of the most ironic postscripts to the Cold War era, the former East Germany's most ruthless spymaster has just published a cookbook, one that claims that the art of cooking has much in common with the art of espionage.

"Ordinary spying can be compared with the bread and potatoes of an everyday kitchen," Wolf writes in an opening that contends a good spy doesn't need James Bondian razzle-dazzle any more than a good cook requires caviar or other costly ingredients.

"But then, man doesn't live by bread alone," adds Wolf, hardly an ordinary spy but a retired major general once capable of obtaining top-secret construction plans for U.S. missile sites and NATO's contingency plans for a Soviet-led attack.

Cold Warriors and thriller devotees will recall Wolf as the long-time head of East Germany's Main Intelligence Administration, usually known by its German initials, HVA, and considered the most effective foreign spying agency from Berlin to Bucharest.


Wolf--who handled only external intelligence and denies involvement in the hated internal secret police apparatus that plagued East Germans--is presumed by many to be the real-life model for the mysterious Karla in several of John Le Carre's espionage novels, the archenemy of the fictional British intelligence chief George Smiley. It was Wolf's well-placed mole who provoked the 1974 resignation of West Germany's popular chancellor, Nobel peace laureate Willy Brandt.

For years, Wolf was known as "The Man Without a Face" because he managed to avoid being photographed by his Western adversaries. He retired in 1987 and surprised jaded East Germans by publishing a rather tender memoir of his youth in the Soviet Union, revealing himself as something unusual in that repressed state: a powerful official willing to step away from his public persona for a moment and to reveal intimacies about himself to his information-starved compatriots.

Alas for Wolf, his early departure from the HVA and the candor of his early memoir were not enough to save him from the wrath of reunited Germans after the Berlin Wall fell. In 1990, Wolf became an international fugitive, hiding for a time in Austria--where, he writes, he longed for a beloved Russian-style vinaigrette salad that no Austrian seemed able to make to his taste.

But by 1991, Wolf had tired of life on the run and returned to Germany, where he turned himself in. He was jailed in southern Germany--and then the chow got really bad. ("You get a plastic plate with breakfast on it at 7 a.m.," he writes with distaste of imprisonment. "Three pieces of margarine, three pieces of bread, a triangular piece of cheese and a cup of imitation coffee, same as the other prisoners.")

Wolf was put on trial, convicted of bribery and treason, then freed on bail. But in May this year, his sentence was effectively voided when Germany's high Constitutional Court ruled in a separate case that East Germans could not be convicted of treason against West Germany.

Today, Wolf walks the streets of downtown Berlin a free man, more or less. The dashing former world traveler, the fabled connoisseur of well-cut suits and beautiful women, is now forbidden to leave his gritty center-city neighborhood without obtaining permission from the court that granted him bail.

He still has plenty of enemies who believe that he should be behind bars. And there is always that nagging awareness that many of the West Germans who spied so loyally for him did get hefty post-unification prison terms: The Constitutional Court ruling didn't do anything for West Germans.

No job, a minuscule pension, 73 years old and a lifetime's worth of adventure stories and moral dilemmas: What else to do but write a book?

Thus, Wolf's "The Secrets of Russian Cooking" is anything but a how-to guide for making borscht and blinis, although he has certainly included recipes for such dishes. His new book is, once again, a memoir first and foremost, one that sometimes bitterly, sometimes wistfully and often humorously recounts a life in the service of what former President Ronald Reagan called the Evil Empire.

It is a book that fairly screams, "I love the ordinary Russian people" from every page.


Los Angeles Times Articles