In early November 1989, shortly before the Berlin Wall fell and while demonstrations were taking place around East Germany, a West German television station reported that Henry Maske, a 27-year-old light heavyweight boxer and a 1988 Olympic and '89 world champion, was considering turning pro. "It was a rumor," Maske says today. "I was summoned to my club and asked what the problem was."
The professional boxer had always been ridiculed in East Germany, depicted, Maske says, "as a stupid man without means who climbs into the ring for his manager and entourage, like some animal." But even as they went about denying the rumors, Maske and his coach, Manfred Wolke, got to thinking. And the more they considered a pro career, the more appealing it became. Within months, Maske had hired a manager and left the amateur ranks.
As information dribbled out about the privileges accorded East Germany's athletes, even neighbors turned on him. In 1986, Maske received a Trabant, the East German Beetle, without having to wait the customary 15 years. In '87 he and his wife, Manuela, moved into the apartment in Frankfurt on the Oder in which they live today with their infant daughter, Lina. And the government paid him a $22,000 bonus after his Olympic victory. "We had always been described in the press as nice guys who trained hard and did a lot for the nation," he says. "Now suddenly they were revealing the sums we made, without mentioning our sacrifices."
Even though he has won all 11 of his fights as a pro and beat Yawe Davis, who was No. 3 in the WBC ratings, last May, Maske's career isn't one that would cause the Don Kings and Bob Arums of the world to look twice. His manager pays Wolke and covers all expenses. Maske gets $1,660 a month and keeps anything he makes in excess of $20,000 a year. "So far it's been a wash," he says.
"I was content before the change. I had grown up in that environment and knew that professional boxing was impossible. I'm not a dreamer. But I was lucky. The change came at the right time. I won the one title I was still missing, the world, in 1989, and had a superb ending to my amateur career. And I'm not as used up as many others are."