I, Sitting Beside Me

Mathias Rust : Aviator

In 1987, during the last years of the Cold War, a West German teenager with only about 50 hours of flying experience rented a Cessna and departed on a two week trip. His goal was to fly over the Iron Curtain and land in Moscow.

PLAYLIST
(in order of appearance)
Artist – Title – Album
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake Scene (Act III) – Swan Lake
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 I. Andante – Allegro con anima – Symphony No. 5
Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason – Venia – Solaris
Matt Carlson – A Lock Against Oblivion – NNA Tapes
Alva Noto – Haliod Xerrox Copy 9 – Xerrox Vol.1 (r-n 78)
Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason – Simulacra II – Solaris
Strange Forces – Soul Window – Strange Forces EP
Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason – Simulacra II – Solaris
Cliff Martinez – Is That What Everybody Else Wants – Solaris Movie Soundtrack
Jonny Greenwood – Moon Trills – Bodysong
Cliff Martinez – Maybe You’re My Puppet – Solaris Movie Soundtrack
Alva Noto – Haliod Xerrox Copy 9 – Xerrox Copy 1
Jonny Greenwood – Trench – Bodysong
Basil Poledouris – The Funeral – (National Anthem of the Soviet Union) – Red Dawn Movie Soundtrack
Jonny Greenwood – Able-bodied Seamen – The Master Movie Soundtrack
Delia Derbyshire – Air – BBC Radiophonic Music (1971)
Jonny Greenwood – Able-bodied Seamen – Bodysong
Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason – Simulacra II – Solaris
Guitar – Tokyo Memory – Tokyo
Delia Derbyshire – Blue Veils and Golden Sands – BBC Radiophonic Music (1971)
Eduard Artemiev – Stalker Soundtrack – Stalker Original Soundtrack LP
Guitar – Tokyo Memory – Tokyo
Banabila & Machinefabriek – Disndag – Travelog
Eduard Artemiev – Solaris Soundtrack – Solaris Original Soundtrack
Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason – Venia – Solaris
Aarktica – Indie – No Solace in Sleep
Jonny Greenwood – Peartree – Bodysong
Cliff Martinez – Don’t Blow It – Solaris Movie Soundtrack
Matt Carlson – A Lock Against Oblivion – NNA Tapes
TRANSCRIPT
I, Sitting Beside Me
Mathias Rust – Aviator

***
I was bought into this investigation room. And they said they would continue now and ask me some more questions, to understand why I actually came to Moscow to improve the relations between East and West. The mood was really friendly. It was nothing like I’m stranger, very polite. But I notice also that they do not really trust me. He told me, this investigator, when he was 19, he was only thinking about getting drunk or having girlfriends, not about peace and relations between East and West. He said, “We don’t believe you now that you’re just a young guy, so 19 years.”

Only by yourself to improve the relations as if he cannot believe that. But I told him I’m telling the truth and everything what I saying is honest, honest, honest. Honesty was some strange word for them at that time in the Cold War. Then about 5:00 in the morning, one of the investigators asked me if I have an idea of where they are going to bring me now. And I said, “Most likely wouldn’t bring me to a hotel or something.” So, then officer came. Then fixed year door was opening and I saw the jail. I was scared. They asked me to tell me the truth from the beginning.

***

[Passersby watched amazed as a Cessna light aircraft landed in Red Square. It’s pilot was a young West German, Mathias Rust.] [There was a small plane and people were curiously climbing up and looking inside. And some people were talking to the pilot and asking him questions. He was just leaning against the side. And then an American tourist in the crowd called and asked him where he had come from and he said from Helsinki.] [It gave us a shock because it was a German and he’d violated Soviet airspace, broken laws and international regulations. It could have turned into a bilateral crisis.] [But what would cause a 19-year-old to do such a thing?]

The first idea occurred to me in Autumn 1986. It was right after that summit in Reykjavík. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev supposed to sign a treaty and they couldn’t get it done. It’s really difficult from today to get at that feeling how it was. How it was to live in a almost war. We were surrounded by enemy countries that thousands of nuclear missiles were pointed at where you were living, from both sides. That’s why I came to the conclusion that we need to build imaginary bridge between West and East. The only way I can do is by the head of an aircraft. I wasn’t sure from the beginning. It was maybe I calculated that I had maybe a 50 to 50 chance to reach actually, to reach Moscow. But I couldn’t be sure. I was sure that they had a lot of missiles based along the borders. They had aircraft everywhere. They had very, very sophisticated radar equipment. So, I need a little bit luck. I didn’t talk about that to anyone, to my parents or to my friends.

Because they would have done anything to stop me from flying to Moscow. Because they would have seen me being shot down by the Russian forces for sure. But if I would be able to reach Moscow, it would show everybody that weapons and armaments is not the conclusion for securing peace. I arrived in Finland on May 25th, 1987. So, three days before I departed to Moscow. It was about 10 degrees outside. It was quite cold. It was just like… I felt miserable and I was freezing all the time. I was walking around the city for about just two days. I was always reflecting and try to convince myself that I was doing the right thing. I was intending to just leave and go back, fly back home. It felt like it’s easier. I realized more and more as closer as this departure date came, there was lack of [inaudible 00:05:57], that I wouldn’t be able to climb over. I was very much scared. Scared of doing the one decision, being shot down, of death.

Then the 28th of May arrived. I woke up in the morning. I didn’t sleep the whole night and then the taxi brought me to the airport and I wasn’t sure at that time what I was actually doing. I was just filling in the flight plan, destination was Stockholm. Then I lift off. I was following for half an hour, I did exactly the direction of the tower. Then it felt like an out of body experience. It was not like me. Not like I was sitting there and was doing a clear decision. It was just like it happened by itself. I changed the direction of the aircraft. I was going on the course to Moscow. And then I was just flying there. And it felt all the time like I was sitting next to me. I was watching me how I was conducting that aircraft and keeping it on course. Just something like you’re living between two lives in that moment, when you cannot really see and control that what was happening in that moment. One hour later across the Soviet border, when I didn’t see any aircraft yet and I was surprised.

Nobody is approaching me. We are [inaudible 00:07:56]. I had this radio on the emergency frequency scoped. So, they could have talked to me if they wanted. There was nothing. It was just silence. 20 minutes later, I was actually approached by an aircraft, a military one. I just saw it without [inaudible 00:08:20] coming behind a cloud. It was just heading straight to me. My eyes opened wide. I had dropped down my pants. And I was waiting actually for the hit, explosion or something like I saw it on TV. But nothing happened. Silence for minutes. Five or six minutes later, I saw the aircraft, the military one, passing by. Maybe about 50 meters lower than we’re flying. And I saw clearly it had star on the outside. And the two pilots, I saw them wearing white helmets. I saw the oxygen mask, orange overalls. I said, “What are they doing now?” Nothing happened. After about five hours, I saw the first buildings of Moscow arising in the horizon.

Then I said it’s I’m there. I’m safe because I did know that as soon as I reached the buildings, the city, they wouldn’t dare to shoot me down anymore. Because there would have been the risk to hide it. Somebody else would be harmed on the ground. The next challenge was just to locate Red Square. I want to land, but the people there and I cannot risk we land there with all the people in Red Square. So, I decided to just make an over shoot, to go down. We thought 10 to 15 meters about that, to indicate them I want to land there. I did that. And I saw how slowly the people spread, they went to the side. And some of them remained shocked standing straight in front of the aircraft. If I would land now, I would hit them all down. So, I said, maybe they understand that. And then I turn, at a second approach, I would have understood that I wanted to land right there. But it happened the same thing, the people always return like ants back to the center of the Red Square.

But then I discovered a six-lane wide bridge heading straight to the Red Square, the Moscow Red Square, which then I decided for to land on that bridge. There was a few cars at that time on that bridge. I was overtaken on the left side. And then I saw this man watching to the side, watching straight in the fears with big eyes. And I was only hoping that he would not lose the control of his car and maybe he would have a crash. But then he was just going ahead, scary funny moments. Then I was just parking the aircraft. The engine was off. I was sitting quiet in the pilot seat surrounded by the crowd. It’s time to get out. Then a boy, maybe 15 to 16 start to talk to me in English. The first question was, “Where you came from?” “I’m from Germany.” “That’s good, that’s from our partners. Welcome.” So, I said, “To make it clear I’m from West Germany. I’m not from East Germany.” Well, they were very surprised. One of those huge black sedans arrived. A tall man walked out.

He had a lot of medals on his chest, on his uniform. And he asked me first, he wanted to see my passport. I handed over to him and he went through it. And then, “Where’s your visa, please?” I said, “I don’t have final visa. If I would have applied in Hamburg in the consulate for one visa, would have stated, I wanted to fly to Moscow to demonstrate for peace. What they would have done? If you would think they would have issued me a visa for that purpose?” And he said, “Of course not.” He told me, “You are really brave boy.” When he said, “What you did is really, really good.” And he supports that in just this idea. And he wishes me all the best to go ahead with it. But he said, “But next time, please apply for a visa to make sure that everything goes its way.” I said, “Yes, I can do that.” 20 minutes later, military trucks arrived. Soldiers jumped off of the trays and they start to bar off the people with some steel barriers. When I asked the boy, “What they’re saying?”

Soldiers say that the people have to leave now. But then I go and I said, “They don’t want to leave me alone because of what will protect me from them.” I said, “Hello, this is interesting.” They want to help me and protect them from their own military. I liked that idea. And then they brought me to this police station and it was in this building was in a really sad status. I was brought into this investigation room. Then about 5:00 in the morning, one of the investigators asked me if I have an idea of where they’re going to bring me now. And I said, “Most likely wouldn’t bring me to a hotel or something.” “Yes,” he said, “You’re right. You will not be brought to a hotel. You will just be brought now to the jail that is next to our building.” But I stand tough and I realize I’m not changing my versions. When they couldn’t find anything on that side that was undermining what I was saying. When they had for about three weeks just kind of an investigation.

Then three weeks later, when the KGB finished the pre-investigation, and they showed me also a little certificate. It stated that the pre-investigation is completed. And now everybody was smiling. And they offered me some cookies and some really good tea. I said, “We’re now celebrating now?” They’re convinced today that I am not a spy. That I’m not a provocateur. And they said, they see me now as a friend of the Soviet Union, just like that. I said, “You are playing with my mind now. You actually want to make me mad in the last minutes.” They said, “No, it’s really what we have found out. You said you are not a provocateur. You’re not an enemy. You really did that what you said.” And that we are now. The Soviet legal system at that time was that way that you were only able to ask for a lawyer after the investigation was finished, very convenient for them. I asked my lawyer what they presume? I said, “Is this possible that I get a suspended jail term or something?” And he said, “It’s really rare in the Soviet Union that a sentence suspended.”

Maybe you’re getting 10 years or so. I said, “10 years, that’s almost time for long grey beard. Hardly any teeth in the mouth, bended back or something.” That was my picture of 10 years in the labor camp. I was brought with a green van to the courtroom. This courtroom was full of people. Most of them were journalists from the Soviet Union, from all over the place. I saw my parents, my brother was also there. There was a red painted bench, especially red, signal red. And it was real sticky. So, I said, “Is this painted for me so it looks new?” But they didn’t wait along to dry it out. So, I was sitting there on this bench and it was sticking all over my pants. And I’m only thinking about my pants now spoiled with this red paint. I said, “What for an important question in their mind before they have now in my mind?” I thinking about the red paint on my pants. And then I asked him, “Do you have anything to cover that?” And this guy was asked, “What do you want me to do now? You’re now in court.”

And they give me a towel, the kitchen towel. The prosecutor started accusing me of [inaudible 00:17:30], including illegally the Soviet airspace. Put danger to everything. They were very much convinced that I just did all that to become a public figure. That is what the whole West is looking for, just become the public figure and to earn a lot of money. I said that I wanted to move something. I wanted to change the world to a peaceful one, more peaceful one. To become a public figure in their terms, if I’ll be noticed in the public, you cannot really move anything. When I met my parents, the first thing my mother said to the prosecutor who was also in the room, she asked them not to torture me and not to give me any drugs. The Soviet investigator said, “We’re not putting him on that racks or we not torturing your son.” My mother said, “But everybody knows that you torture people.” And he said, “Maybe in the past on some other people maybe that happened. So, we cannot deny that.”

“Your son is safe and he’s fine on juvenile [inaudible 00:18:49].” And my mother was surprised to hear that and of course she was relaxed. It was a sad moment when we have to separate again, because I didn’t know when I would meet them again. This can be months, it can even be years. I didn’t know. My mother had tears in her eyes, running down her cheeks. I was shaky. I’m sure I was very pale in the face. The whole body was shaking. And I felt like I was falling flat on the floor next moment. Then the judge start to read his papers and the interpreter was translating it to me. And I only heard labor camp, four years. Four years, I thought, “Oh, my God.” Four months, I said I wasn’t real. And now, four more years? I almost fainted. I think that there’s a feeling only somebody else who also was sentenced to some jail term can really experience following that what I felt in that moment. When I think I would cry in that moment, if I could. Could have cried. I was [inaudible 00:20:20].

I felt like all my life energy escaped from to outer space or something. Was just nude, without any emotions, without any feelings, just an empty hollow body. My first Christmas coming up in jail, we had a lot of snow and it was very cold, minus 30 degrees. I got the permission to work two hours a day in this garden. I was brought into this investigation room. And they said they would continue now and ask me some more questions, to understand why I actually came to Moscow, to improve the relations between East and West. The mood was really friendly. It was nothing like I’m stranger. Very polite, but I notice also that they do not really trust me. He told me, this investigator, when he was 19, he was only thinking about getting drunk or having girlfriends, not about peace or relations between East and West. He said, “We don’t believe you now that you’re just a young guy.” So, 19 years only by yourself to improve the relations, as if he cannot believe that.

But I told him I’m telling the truth. Everything what I’m saying is honest, honest, honest. Honesty was some strange word for them at that time in the Cold War. Then about 5:00 in the morning, one of the investigators asked me if I have an idea of where they’re going to bring me now. And I said, “Most likely wouldn’t bring me to a hotel or something.” But then officer came, then fixed year door was opening and I saw the jail. And I was scared. They asked me to tell me the truth from the beginning.

***

[Passersby watched amazed as a Cessna light aircraft landed in Red Square. It’s pilot was a young West German, Mathias Rust.] [There was a small plane and people were curiously climbing up and looking inside. And some people were talking to the pilot and asking him questions. He was just leaning against the side. And then an American tourist in the crowd called and asked him where he had come from and he said from Helsinki.] [It gave us a shock because it was a German and he violated Soviet airspace, broken laws and international regulations. It could have turned into a bilateral crisis.] [But what would cause a 19-year-old to do such a thing?]

The first idea occurred to me in Autumn 1986. It was right after that summit in Reykjavik. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev supposed to sign a treaty and they couldn’t get it done. It’s really difficult from today to get at that feeling how it was. How it was to live in a almost war. We were surrounded by enemy countries. You know that thousands of nuclear missiles were pointed at where you were living, from both sides. And that’s why I came to the conclusion that we need to build imaginary bridge between West and the East. The only way I can do is by the head of an aircraft. I wasn’t sure from the beginning. It was maybe I calculated that I had maybe a 50 to 50 chance to reach actually, to reach Moscow. But I couldn’t be sure. I was sure that they had a lot of missiles based along the borders. They had aircraft everywhere. They had very, very sophisticated radar equipment. So, I needed a little bit luck.

I didn’t talk about that to anyone, to my parents or to my friends, because they would have done anything to stop me from flying to Moscow. Because they would have seen me being shot down by the Russian forces for sure. But if I would be able to reach Moscow, it would show everybody that weapons, armaments is not the conclusion for securing peace. I arrived in Finland on May 25th, 1987. So, three days before I departed to Moscow. It was about 10 degrees outside. It was quite cold. It was just like… I felt miserable and I was freezing all the time. I was walking around the city for about just two days. I was always reflecting and try to convince myself that I was doing the right thing. I was intending to just leave and go back, fly back home. It felt like it’s easier. I realized more and more as closer as this departure date came, there was lack of [inaudible 00:26:55] that I wouldn’t be able to climb over. I was very much scared. Scared of doing the one decision, being shot down, of death.

Then the 28th of May arrived. I woke up in the morning. I didn’t sleep the whole night and then the taxi brought me to the airport and I wasn’t sure at the time what I was actually doing. I was just filling in the flight plan, destination was Stockholm. Then I lift off. Moscow just to free myself, to earn money. It was selfish ideas and so they became everything being very superficial. I was so overwhelming. It was just too much input at that time for me.

Input?

Yeah, too much input. It was just like I felt one jail I changed for the next, but only a few people. But it felt like everybody was against you at that time. You make yourself like you’re flowing, flowing on air, something like that. I get a lot of letters from Germans who was threatening my life and I was scared. I’ve entered the police at that time with my parents. And they said, they cannot do anything about just some papers. It is not enough to do anything. So, I felt like I need to arm myself. I did this what I actually was demonstrating against armament. So, I armed myself, to defend myself.

I don’t know if this is too sensitive a topic, but can we talk about what happened a few years later with the-

The injury of the nurse.

With the injury of the nurse.

Yes, this was one of the consequences, unfortunately. It was just when I was starting my civil service in this new hospital. But it was here substitute for the military service, what you could apply for. It was exactly this. I was destabilized more than I actually expected. It didn’t feel like months after I returned to Germany that bad anymore. But then she said something, what later on the counselors see it as a hit to the mark. It was hit me to the mark that I had this reaction.

Do you remember what was said?

No, I can’t really remember those words, no. The counselor said it was something must have said, must have hit me very… That really cause and this kind of blackout situation, that reaction. Make me force and to do something, for it was actually completely contrary to my personality. That was of no violence at all. Some words were spoken that hit me somehow and triggered that, that injured her.

How badly injured was she?

It was life threatening, but it happened in the hospital, because she got an operation. There was only a flesh wound, no organs were hit fortunately.

When did you realize what actually had happened?

Hours later, hours later. I was just walking in the first floor by this hospital, and then they had already called the police, looking out for me. And then I couldn’t really remember what happened. I only knew that something was wrong with me. Was really dark times at that time. And it was just a question of time the psychologist said that something like this could happen. Anyhow, this with a knife or with a steel bow or whatever. It was just like a barrel of water that all of a sudden it was due to overflow. When there was this just like a small explosion and then everything is gone and this was that.

What is it like to know that that’s inside you? To realize that that can be brought out in the right circumstance?

Deep inside me, something like that really was living all the time. I did realize before that fear dual, that we have both positive and negative. But there’s so much negativity then inside me that I was actually able to do that, that surprised and scared me. And of course, I had a lot of meetings with psychologists at the time to work that out and to realize that, to get stable. To live with the idea that I actually have blood on my hands at that time.

Do you feel like when the incident happened with the nurse that that gave the media an excuse to sort of disregard the earlier stuff that you did?

Yes, for sure. Incident with nurse give them really… It was feeding my critic. They were dancing. Right from the begin he was mad. That’s now with the nurse underlined that. Really gives them the past and over the present.

When I think… I think you are a little bit crazy and not in a necessarily bad way. But I think that they’re related. I think that making that initial choice for good is similar to going to the dark space as well. I think it was crazy to think that you could change the world. And you did obviously, but it does require something different from how other people view the world. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully.

No, no, I understand. I understand what they mean. Yes, it’s also that judgment have as a crazy person in this sense. No, that that really just makes a difference. That make’s a difference between being a sheep for the rest of your life or just walking aside. It needs and you be kind of craziness in quotation marks. It’s like fire to go that way.

***

CREDITS

Featuring:
Mathias Rust

Production:
Nick van der Kolk, Host & Director
Mike Martinez, Producer
Brendan Baker, Producer

Special thanks:
Sina Koppel

Published on: June 12, 2014

From: Episodes, Season 4

Producers: , , ,

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