Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall
When one visits contemporary Berlin, the place where the Wall once was is indicated with a marker in the ground through the center of Berlin.
And when one enjoys what was once East Berlin, absence of the ever present Stasi and the repression delivered by the system of informers is a strong historical memory for those who lived during the Cold War.
But where have they gone?
In an interesting look at the Stasi by an Australian who learned German and lived in Berlin after the wall came down, the author provides perspectives from those who were repressed and those who did the job of controlling the society.
And of course, the question of where the Stasi now live out their years is also an interesting part of the story which this Australian analyst answers in part as well.
After the Wall fell the German media called East Germany ‘the most perfected surveillance state of all time’. At the end, the Stasi had 97,000 employees—more than enough to oversee a country of seventeen million people.
But it also had over 173,000 informers among the population.
In Hitler’s Third Reich it is estimated that there was one Gestapo agent for every 2000 citizens, and in Stalin’s USSR there was one KGB agent for every 5830 people.
In the GDR, there was one Stasi officer or informant for every sixty-three people.
If part-time informers are included, some estimates have the ratio as high as one informer for every 6.5 citizens.
Everywhere Mielke found opposition he found enemies, and the more enemies he found the more staff and informers he hired to quell them.1
One of the most poignant stories is that of Miriam who attempted to escape and was put in Stasi prison. When she married, the Stasi then went after her husband. One day she was informed by the Stasi that her husband had committed suicide while in their custody.
She knew this was not true and her story of trying to prove it stills go on because her loss and the inability to find cloture provides the baseline nature of her existence in the new Germany with the continuing presence of the Stasi heritage.
Another story of a woman who works in the Mielke museum underscores her belief that the past lingers on.
When she finishes we start moving out through Mielke’s private quarters, his bathroom and his office. She locks the doors behind us as we go.
‘You know, there’s no real unity in this country,’ she says, ‘even after seven years.
I don’t feel like I belong here at all.
Did you know that in the suburb of Kreuzberg in West Berlin they wanted the Wall back!
To protect them from us!’ She lights a cigarette.
‘Can you understand this German thinking?’
I hope it’s a rhetorical question.
All I understand is that it only took forty years to create two very different kinds of Germans, and that it will be a while before those differences are gone.2
Then there are the stories of the Stasi themselves living in the new Germany.
He called Der Spiegel, the famous West German news magazine, and arranged to tell them everything. ‘I really pulled my pants down, as they say,’ he says. ‘When I got the edition in my hand I felt sick. There was a photo and everything. I mean, when you are silent and you lie for twenty-six years and then all of a sudden you see yourself in a magazine, it was really…’
He pauses again. ‘I have to say it was a bit strange for me here,’ he pats his heart. Hardly any of his former colleagues will talk about what they used to do.
It is almost a sort of omerta, a code of honour that rules them.
He tells me that they still meet in groups according to rank, or at birthdays and funerals.
A general who remains on speaking terms with him told him that at a recent seventieth birthday, proceedings were run like a divisional meeting from the old days.
There was an agenda and the men went through it item by item.
It consisted mainly of passing around clippings or reporting on television programs against the Stasi. It was as if the old Stasi leaders have now found a new enemy: the media.3
In meetings with another former Stasi we learn of the waiting for the next revolution.
‘How are you treated today, as a former Stasi man?’ I ask.
I would like to find out why he is disguised as a westerner.
‘The foe has made a propaganda war against us, a slander and smear campaign. And therefore I don’t often reveal myself to people. But in Potsdam people come up and say’—he puts on a small sorry voice—‘“You were right. Capitalism is even worse than you told us it would be. In the GDR you could go out alone at night as a woman! You could leave your apartment door open!”’ You didn’t need to, I think, they could see inside anyway.
‘This capitalism is, above all, exploitation! It is unfair. It’s brutal. The rich get richer and the masses get steadily poorer. And capitalism makes war! German imperialism in particular! Each industrialist is a criminal at war with the other, each business at war with the next!’ He takes a sip of coffee and holds his hand up to stop me asking any more questions.
The human race will not last the next fifty years!’
There is an art, a deeply political art, of taking circumstances as they arise and attributing them to your side or the opposition, in a constant tallying of reality towards ends of which it is innocent.
And it becomes clear as he speaks that socialism, as an article of faith, can continue to exist in minds and hearts regardless of the miseries of history.
This man is disguised as a westerner, the better to fit unnoticed into the world he finds himself in, but the more he talks the clearer it becomes that he is undercover, waiting for the Second Coming of socialism.4
The book makes a significant contribution to looking back which allows us to look forward and to understand the nature of historical change.
- Funder, Anna. Stasiland (p. 57). Harper Perennial. Kindle Edition.
- Funder, Anna. Stasiland (p. 74). Harper Perennial. Kindle Edition. Funder, Anna. Stasiland (p. 74). Harper Perennial. Kindle Edition.
- Funder, Anna. Stasiland (pp. 242-243). Harper Perennial. Kindle Edition.
- Funder, Anna. Stasiland (p. 86). Harper Perennial. Kindle Edition. Funder, Anna. Stasiland (pp. 85-86). Harper Perennial. Kindle Edition.