Welt am Sonntag 17.01.1999
An Agent with Body and Soul
By Sabine Höher and Marco Wismewski
The wife of top agent Werner Mauss talks about her exciting life
Stromberg - Werner Mauss pushes the menu over to his wife. “You choose for both of us.” She orders two vegetable soups, fish and orange juice. “I don’t drink or smoke. My only vice is my wife”, says the agent.
Their names once more in the headlines after the freeing of kidnapped German doctor Ottmar Broda, Werner and Ida Mauss choose a castle on the Rhine for the meeting with the reporter. A restaurant with Italian food, armour, ancient ruins. Details of operations were often settled here, it’s somewhere Mauss feels secure.
Something of a lone wolf in former times, nowadays he does very little without wife Ida at his side: “We complement one another.”
So, just who is this woman? She is an Italian from Cagliari (Sardinia), daughter of a tax inspector. She speaks five languages, four of them fluently. She has striking green eyes, a sweet smile and is wearing a tweed suit that reveals a lot of leg.
As a young girl she was one of the fastest sprinters in Italy – until she sustained a meniscus injury at 15. Gruelling marches through the jungle, or days in the saddle are something she takes on as others do their Sunday afternoon stroll. “She once jumped from a twelve-metre-high cliff”, he says...and she swims like a fish.”
In Sardinia she studied Political Science and it was there, too, that she met Werner Mauss. It was in a café in Cagliari in 1981. Ida was there chatting to some friends when the German agent came in to buy some cake for himself and a group of public prosecutors. He recalls: “She spoke excellent German and advised me on which cake I should choose. I was so impressed that I took the whole tray over to the girls’ table.” Ida told him about her planned trip by train and that she would be changing in Mainz. A casual arrangement to meet up followed.
At that time the Italian could, of course, have no idea who this man, who claimed to be a pilot for Hapag-Lloyd, really was.
Mauss, son of a draper, was born in Essen in 1940. His father died when Werner was eight years old. His mother failed in her attempt to carry on her husband’s business: “We had nothing at home but a broken-down bed, a couch and a cactus”, is how he puts it.
After qualifying as an agronomist he went on to take private lessons in criminology. To earn money he shovelled coal at Essen harbour, broke in horses and sold vacuum cleaners. “They were good for baking cakes, massaging and making peanut butter as well as vacuuming. I had such a good line in sales talk that no housewife could resist signing on the dotted line.”
At 20 he opened a detective agency, specialising in divorce cases. “People got up to so many tricks, they tried to throw me off the scent, to put up smokescreens. I got them all, just the same.” He even brought some married couples together again, something for which many, in return, provided him with contracts from industry. At 24 Mauss had his own plane and had opened offices in London and Locarno.
He worked undercover, hunted down criminals all over Europe, brought RAF terrorists to book, tracked down the Seveso toxic barrels and infiltrated criminal organisations.
His wife Margret, a legal secretary, helped him at that time. A 22-year marriage of convenience, Mauss now calls it: “We never loved one another.” Margret, too, remarried after the divorce.
Werner and the Italian Ida met again at the railway station in Mainz in 1981, three months after their first meeting in the café: “I had neither address nor telephone number. I just hoped that she would come.” For two weeks the pair travelled all over Germany; by journey’s end they had become a couple.
With Ida, the agent’s cover was blown within three days: “I saw his pistol and several passports. It was quite evident to me that he was either a policeman or a member of the Mafia.”
She was able to cope with the truth: “I was completely fascinated, both by him and by his job.” Ida made up her mind that she would work together with her husband – an agent “with body and soul”, as she puts it. 1982 saw their first successful case as a couple.
According to Mauss, his most dangerous ever mission was his first meeting with Ida’s parents. On that occasion he was forced to stand outside a hotel room window, in biting cold, and on a seventh floor window ledge, in order to conceal his presence as their daughter’s room guest from them. Despite the messed up family get-together they were to marry – three times! “Once with real names, once with aliases and once in the church.” That scene alone would have been worth filming, as the couple were smuggled in gondolas, under police guard, to the rear entrance of St Mark’s Cathedral.
Since that day Mauss and his Ida have been inseparable. They tell stories of an operation in a crisis zone in Colombia, complete with gun battle, of six weeks shut up in a cramped room in a pension. But Ida Mauss has never been afraid: “I have complete trust in my husband’s experience and his ability to minimise risks and dangers.” The only things that the couple fear are the destructive actions of intriguers: “There are plenty of people who would like to destroy us as a team.”
There is one topic which still provokes Ida Mauss to vent her fury – the fact that, despite her innocence, she had to suffer imprisonment in Colombia. The memories of her nine-month hell in a cramped 1.60 x1.80 metre cell are still very much with her: the terrible food, the separation from her husband, and all the time surrounded by murderers and poisoners. Her hair began to fall out. “We only got through it because of our sense of discipline and our strong feelings for one another”, says Werner Mauss.
After their release, the couple stayed on in civil-war-torn Colombia. This was done at the request of the government and the Peace Commission, according to Mauss. He even believes that: “My wife is adored over there in the same kind of way as Evita Peron was in Argentina.” Such comparisons make Ida Mauss a bit uncomfortable. She prefers to talk about social injustice in Colombia: “The country is so rich in mineral resources that no one would need to work. And yet around 70 % of the people live in poverty.” The couple have been accused of having become too close to the guerrilleros. Mauss even sends people copies of the books of poems by rebel leader Antonio Garcia and says: “If I had grown up in that misery, I would now be the worst of the guerrilleros.”
Both agents’ mobile phones begin ringing. He plucks a last piece from his fish before loudly engaging in a live interview with Colombian television over the phone.
Since their cover was blown, Werner and Ida Mauss have learned to live more publicly. They spend their spare time like many married couples. Preferring most of all to stay home with their three sons (15, 12, 7).
“The children know that we are in danger, but they have coped with it all very well”, says Ida Mauss. For her, there is no question of the Colombian adventure being abandoned: “There has never been a mission that we have not finished.”
By courtesy of the publisher