The spy who stayed out in the cold

It's a year since the death of Markus Wolf, the most feared spy in the West.

As Chief of the Stasi's foreign intelligence service, Wolf was the quintessential spymaster: the cleverest, most cultured and most successful that ever existed in the Communist Bloc. His name still causes mixed reactions across Europe.

The son of a famous Jewish Communist playwright, Markus escaped to Moscow after the Nazis came to power in the 1930s.  Known as Misha in Russia, he was trained by the Soviets, and sent back to Germany after the war. As the battle lines of the Cold War were being drawn, the border between the two German republics became the new front.

Soon he assembled an invisible army of thousands of agents, who infiltrated every West German government department. At its peak in the 1970s, the power of his East German spy network was said to exceed that of the KGB. All the information came back to one man.

He was a gifted organiser, who was also blessed with charisma. He could talk to anyone. People trusted him, even West Germans.

But to his enemies, Markus Wolf became ‘the man without a face’, so evasive he could never be photographed.

His favoured spying technique was the use of so-called Romeo agents. Attractive East German men would ensnare the secretaries of the most powerful Western Germans, and use them to access information.

Wolf's biggest coup was forcing the resignation of the popular German Chancellor Willy Brandt. He stepped down after discovering his top aide was a Wolf spy.

Markus Wolf resigned in 1986, three years before the Berlin Wall came down.

He remained a communist, even after German reunification, and never admitted any wrongdoing.

John Le Carre's novel “The Spy Who Came in from Cold” features a German spy named Fiedler. He is widely believed to have been based of Wolf.

His last years alternated between court battles to prove his innocence, writing and talk show appearances. The tension between Wolf's personal charm and job description never ceased to fascinate.

But for all the brilliance of Markus Wolf and others like him, nothing could save the ideologies they supported.