Über die deutsche Übersetzung, sehen Sie hier
Stasi = Staatssicherheitsdienst (in der ehemaligen DDR) (Langenscheidts Großwörterbuch-Deutsch als Fremdsprache)
TRUE STORIES FROM BEHIND THE BERLIN WALL
by Anna Funder
June 2003, 288 pages, £12.99 (UK)
THE STASI FILES:EAST GERMANY'S SECRET OPERATIONS AGAINST BRITAIN
by Anthony Glees
The spy's the limit
Giles MacDonogh is gripped by personal histories of Stasi rule in Anna Funder's Stasiland
Saturday June 7, 2003
by Anna Funder
304pp, Granta, £12.99
The Australian Anna Funder was working in television in Berlin in the mid-1990s when she became interested in the Stasi - the former East German ministry of state security. She wanted to know if East Germans had been capable of individual acts of resistance but the notion was brusquely dismissed by her West German colleagues: "Ossis" were not brave, but craven - and stupid to put up with the regime.
Funder decided to find out for herself. By placing an advertisement in a newspaper she arranged meetings with a number of old Stasi-men, including the noble renegade Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, who once hosted a notorious television programmerunning down the west. She found them living in the same drab houses in compounds on the outskirts of Potsdam; the same stained Plattenbauten - or high rise blocks - in East Berlin; and frequenting the same pubs they did in their glory days. The only difference was they now had plenty of time on their hands.
There is much humour and even affection in her portraits of the handful of Stasi-men she meets. Hagen Koch, for example, whose council flat is now a museum to the old regime, has covered the walls with mementoes, such as a dress uniform of an officer in the elite Felix Dzerzhinski regiment - East Germany's equivalent of the Prussian First Foot Guards. Koch was a model citizen who mapped out the Berlin Wall, but something went badly wrong when his superiors began to meddle with his marriage. Funder shows that the Stasi-men like Koch were also victims in their way.
The GDR was a furtive and insidious tyranny. Through the Stasi it pried into every aspect of your life. It possessed armies of spies, paid and unpaid. Some estimates run as high as one for every six and a half members of the population. Any attempt to achieve success in East Germany involved a pact with the devil - you paid with your soul if you wanted to attend a university, enter a sports-club, become a lawyer or a clergyman or marry a foreigner - like Funder's friend Julia. You could only avoid contact with the regime if you opted out, and went into "inner emigration" - not an option for the ambitious.
This was a regime ruled by dour old men - Marxisten-Senilisten. For the most part the party leaders were Saxons - a revenge on Prussia for its earlier domination of Germany. An exception was Erich Mielke, the head of state security. He was a Berliner, wanted since 1931 for shooting a policeman. After 1989 he was put on trial and served a few years of a token sentence.
It must have been a pen-pusher's heaven. The Stasi had files on everybody; most of them would have made dull reading. Any foreigner who exchanged his or her 25 Deutschemarks for the same number of useless Ostmarks and entered the Russian sector might have ended up with a dossier in Berlin-Lichtenberg.
I was befriended by "Detlef" in the Bärenschenke pub in Berlin's Friedrichstrasse. He showed me round the hospital where he worked as a porter. He didn't want me to have an unbalanced view of Prussian history and to that end proposed sending me articles from the "impartial" East German press. After November 9 1989, the packets stopped coming.
Detlef was possibly no more than an "unofficial collaborator" - and unpaid stool-pigeon. The Stasi possessed much larger forces than the Gestapo, but they were not its equals in terror. It is true that some 43,000 people died in concentration camps in the Russian zone before Stalin's death put an end to the more murderous years of the GDR, but even that monstrous tally is small compared with the Nazis'. After July 20 1944 about 5,000 were killed, of whom perhaps only 200 were connected with the plot to kill Hitler. Funder finds evidence of about 20 to 30 secret burials in Leipzig - but over how long a period? The 1,000-year Reich lasted 12 years, the GDR 40. Since 1989 the border guards who opened fire on those who sought freedom in the west have been brought before the courts, but not I think, many junior Stasi-men.
Like the Third Reich, the GDR posed as a Rechtsstaat - one governed by the rule of law. In theory at least, torture was as illegal under Hitler as it was under Honecker. It was however, a brave man or woman who drew attention to the brutality of East German prisons.
All this and much else comes wonderfully to life in Funder's racy account. The real heroes of the book and of the resistance are Miriam and her murdered husband Charlie. Miriam, a reluctant citizen of the GDR, whose story runs as a central strand throughout this gripping book, has reason to be bitter. East Germany cannot die for her while its bogeymen are still living in the same flats and drinking in the same pubs.
Giles MacDonogh's The Last Kaiser: William the Impetuous is published by
What was a wall is now a gulf
Nicholas Shakespeare reviews Stasiland by Anna Funder
It was always a surprise in the 1990s to speak to former West Germans and to discover their complete lack of interest in the country that had once been East Germany. When the Wall was broached in November 1989, one might have predicted a surge of families battling to be reconnected after 40 years of separation, and generating emotions of the sort that are customary today on the Korean peninsula. And yet the most consistent emotion among my friends in Hamburg and Berlin was embarrassment, as though a sick and tiresome relation had turned up after a long absence and was threatening to importune them.
As Anna Funder was informed by her boss when she worked for a television station in reunified Berlin: "No one here is interested [in these people] - they were backward and they were broke, and the whole Stasi thing… It's sort of… embarrassing."
Funder was a young journalist from Melbourne when she first visited Leipzig in 1994. The former Stasi headquarters in the Runde Ecke had become a museum. She stood before the fake bellies with concealed camera-holes, the pulping machines, the glass jars to contain a victim's "smell sample", and she felt like an antipodean Alice. The exhibits, and the stories that she was told by the museum's director, tumbled Funder through the glass panes into a fictional society where everything was known about everybody and yet, at the same time, nothing was known about anything. Nowhere is this ignorance more powerfully conveyed than in the words of the Stasi's geriatric leader, Erich Mielke, in his first and only address to the parliament: "I love all people. I put myself out for you…"
Mielke's unique brand of "love" transformed East Germany into probably the most spied-upon country in history. Funder reminds us that "in its 40 years, 'the Firm' generated the equivalent of all records in German history since the Middle Ages". It is worth repeating the statistics: 180 kilometres of files, 360,000 photographs, 99,600 audio cassettes, one in every 6.5 of the population an informer. Among the informers were 12 of the 19 committee members of the Writers' Association. They included the novelist Christa Wolf, who suppressed all knowledge of her contact with the Stasi until a file prompted her memories. "I never told them anything that could not be heard anyway at any public gathering." Another informer was Knud Wollen, who reported on his wife, Vera, under the name Donald. "I was reporting on myself as much as anyone."
We must be grateful that Funder listened to herself and not to her producers at Viewer Post. In Stasiland, her first book, she spiritedly plunges herself into "this land gone wrong" and attempts to understand a regime like the German Democratic Republic through the stories of ordinary men and women, "not just the activists or the famous writers".
The result is a terrific act of life-giving to a people - 17 million of them - who have hitherto lacked not just a voice but an audience. It does for East Germany what another Australian writer, Peter Robb, achieved for victims of the Mafia in Midnight in Sicily (1998): namely, shine a few rays of Aussie sunshine and humour on to a landscape numbingly associated with brown linoleum and grey concrete.
Funder's guide through this grim Wonderland is Miriam Weber, who in 1968, aged 16, was caught with a child's set of rubber stamps - she had used them to print flyers in protest at the demolition of Leipzig's University Church. While waiting for her trial, Miriam tried to escape to the West, floundering on all fours over the trip-wire. (In one of many fine passages, Funder retraces Miriam's path across an allotment until she can grip the barbed wire that had left white scars on Miriam's palms.) Miriam was imprisoned, and on her release she married a man whom the Stasi quickly arrested. His crime: he had applied to leave East Germany. He died in a Stasi cell, was buried, but in such a way that Miriam believes his coffin to be empty - so that all evidence of what the Stasi did to him, his cause of death, could be cremated.
In her mission to resurrect, as it were, the lost life and body of Charlie Weber, Funder interviews the type of person who might have followed and informed on him as well as those who were followed. She places an advert in a paper (discretion and anonymity guaranteed), and describes a roster of unreformed and self-pitying apologists for the regime, now working in property or life insurance - professions, observes Funder, well-suited to those "schooled in the art of convincing people to do things against their own self-interest". Funder notices what these trained observers fail to see. Where they detected criminal disloyalty, she finds honesty and warmth and a stubborn courage that rises in places to heroism.
The shelf marked "East Germany" boasts shamefully few titles, but Funder has written a book worthy to be read alongside Timothy Garton Ash's The File, Rachel Sieffert's The Dark Room, and Faust's Metropolis, Alexandra Richie's history of Berlin.
Democratic Republic of spying
Richard Overy reviews Stasiland by Anna Funder and The Stasi Files by Anthony Glees
The East German security police, the notorious Stasi whose reign of terror ended when the Communist system collapsed in 1989, was the offspring of two separate traditions of state repression, Nazi and Soviet. The camps and prisons from the Gestapo system, and some of the policemen too, were transmogrified into instruments of Communist oppression; the Soviet KGB became the model for the subsequent practices of the Stasi once the East German state was up and running.
This ancestry perhaps explains why by the 1980s the Stasi had constructed a police surveillance system second to none, one so thorough that there was an agent or informer for every 180 East Germans. This apparatus generated an unimaginable amount of paper as agents remorselessly chronicled the most humdrum and pointless of activities, intercepted the most innocent of letters, and spent months trailing political suspects while following absurd but detailed instructions on how to play the nonchalant passer-by.
The whole system would be a laughing-stock were it not for the fact that hundreds of thousands of unfortunate East Germans, most innocent of any political crime, were arrested, interrogated, routinely tortured and sent to prison camps and psychiatric hospitals. East German Communists were even more determined that their Soviet mentors to eradicate any vestige of anti-Communism. Repression was never called that by name: the Stasi saw themselves as revolutionary heroes, saving a Communist Germany literally on the frontline of the Cold War from defectors and infiltrators.
This is the bizarre world captured in a fascinating book by a young Australian writer, Anna Funder. Her moving journey through liberated eastern Germany after the Wall came down is told through the voices of surviving witnesses form both sides - victims and Stasi operators. It is written with rare literary flair. I can think of no better introduction to the brutal reality of East German repression.
Like the Third Reich that preceded it, the East German system depended on the active participation of thousands of ordinary citizens who shopped their friends, workmates and colleagues to the authorities. Police states depend upon collusion, not simply upon coercion, which may explain why the society Ms Funder is trying to understand has never indulged in mass trials or truth commissions.
When the secret police were not monitoring their own society they turned their eyes on the West. Anthony Glees has spent much of the past decade uncovering the world of East German espionage in Britain. The fruits of this trawl through the surviving Stasi files now closed to researchers, tell an extraordinary story (The Stasi Files, Free Press, £20, 461 pp).
From 1973, when Britain recognised the East German state, the GDR's embassy at 34 Belgrave Square was home to a number of spymasters who helped to recruit and run a network of British informers, some genuine pro-Communists, others just gullible and garrulous.
What the Stasi wanted to do was to get information on British military and foreign policy, while at the same time trying to influence groups and individuals to pursue ends compatible with East German interests. The results were perhaps less alarming than Glees suggests. The rather sorry mixture of dons, teachers and pacifists on whom the East Germans relied numbered only around 100 (which scarcely justifies his claim that Britain was "riddled" with Stasi agents). For the most part they had little hard information to yield, and most seem to have had little idea that they were in fact informers. The handful of true spies betrayed few vital secrets.
Glees takes MI5 to task for failing to unmask the network and it is clear that British intelligence failed to devote the same degree of effort to this corner of the Cold War as the Stasi were prepared to grant it.
The British connection was more important for what it meant to the poor East Germans who were the victims of Communist fantasies about subversion and conspiracy right up to the fall of the regime. One of Funder's witnesses, Miriam Weber, tried as a teenager to crawl through the wire and over the Wall to West Berlin. She was caught on a trip-wire, brutally interrogated and eventually imprisoned. "You could have started World War III", announced the judge who sentenced her.
The Stasi flourished on such nonsense, and were encouraged to do so by mischievous foreign fellow-travellers who remained blind to the harsh realities of the Communist utopia right to the end. Anyone who harbours any lingering sympathies for this dreary and self-important dictatorship, should read both these books forthwith.
Richard Overy's 'Interrogations: Inside the Minds of the Nazi Elite' is published in paperback by Penguin.
logic of illogic
In "Stasiland," writer Anna Funder talks to former members of the Stasi -- the communist East German security apparatus -- and to the people whose lives they destroyed.
By Charles Taylor
June 25, 2003 | Some writers have to inflate their subject to make it worthy of them. Others take what I call the wrong-end-of-the-binoculars approach: They shrink what they're talking about so they can seem superior to it. The prime exponent of that school is Louis Menand. A few months back, the Incredible Shrinking Critic brought his method to bear on George Orwell in a New Yorker essay. In a sustained misreading of nearly every major Orwell work from "Down and Out in Paris and London" to the great essay "Politics and the English Language," it was inevitable that Menand would find fault with "1984." Treating it mistakenly as a prophetic (that is to say, clairvoyant) fable, Menand basically dismissed the book because its warnings hadn't come true. It's embarrassing to have to point out that by the time Orwell published the book, in 1948, his portrait of a totalitarian future, where thought as well as action is controlled, where the leaders have bought into the essentially religious notion that thought is the same thing as action, had already come close to being completely true in Stalin's USSR.
The Australian writer Anna Funder began living in West Germany in the '80s, eventually working for the state television station answering inquiries from viewers. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, she took it upon herself to interview both former members of the Stasi, the East German security apparatus, and the people they spied on. The result, "Stasiland: True Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall," is a mixture of personal and investigative journalism and a reminder that Orwell's vision kept coming true. As the stories Funder hears bear out, the totalitarian logic of illogic was perhaps pursued more rigorously and completely in East Germany than in any other Communist dictatorship.
Funder relates the statistics: "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 [German Democratic Republic] 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."
One of the worst aspects of culture shock for the East Germans who, overnight, found that their country no longer existed, was dealing with the revelation that the state's spies were their neighbors, family, friends, lovers, co-workers. That's what East Germans have learned from Stasi documents -- and what they are still learning in a steady, painful trickle. When the Berlin Wall fell, one of the Stasi's immediate concerns was to shred their voluminous files. Since then, a group called the "puzzle women" have been working to piece together the shredded files. Their story provides Funder with one more daunting statistic: With 40 workers reconstructing 400 pages a day between them, it will take 375 years to reconstruct all the files.
Like all the stories and statistics "Stasiland" relates, those numbers bespeak a paranoia that's both comic and horrible. One former Stasi official tells Funder that by the end of East Germany, 65 percent of the clergy were working as informers. And 65 percent of the members of one particular East German resistance group were informers. The delicious irony was that these informers swelled the public support for these groups, making it look like there were more East Germans openly against the government than there were.
So we have here the ultimate absurdist spectacle, a state spying apparatus so far-reaching that it nearly ran out of things to spy on. Which isn't a problem in terms of a totalitarian mind-set that can see enemies anywhere. The function of the Stasi was, as Funder relates, to arrest, imprison and interrogate anyone it chose, to open all mail, intercept phone calls, bug hotels, spy on diplomats, run its own hospitals and universities, and to train Libyan terrorists and West German members of the Red Army Faction.
Funder interviews people who suffered the worst of that -- like Miriam, who put up anti-GDR placards as a schoolgirl prank (she was 16 at the time) and was then given a year and a half in prison for trying to escape. There is Frau Paul, whose son was born with severe stomach problems that threatened his life. After the Wall was laid out in barbed wire in 1961, she and her husband were denied permission to go to the West to obtain the medicine that was keeping him alive. "If your son is as sick as all that, it would be better if he [died]," the official she saw told her. The East German doctors who treated the baby were smart enough to recognize the seriousness of his condition and smuggled him into the West. Frau Paul and her husband attempted escape, were caught and given four years' hard labor. She turned down the Stasi's offer allowing her to stay with her son if she helped them kidnap the West German who was aiding refugees.
There are also the Stasi officials themselves: the man who insists all the revelations of the state spying apparatus are smears, the one who regrets what he did, the man who for years hosted a program broadcasting excerpts from West German television to show the decadence of the West. This last man, known to the entire population, seems to have earned a special place of hatred in the collective hearts of East Germans. But his words to Funder about how the Wall was necessary to keep imperialism from infecting the East finds a weird echo in the former Easterners who talk about how much better things were under Communism -- how there were no drunks on the street, how their needs were taken care of.
The stories these people tell, particularly those of the victims of the Stasi, are the heart and drama of "Stasiland." But what pervades and unites all of the separate narratives in this book, whether told by victims or victimizers, is that they form an overriding tale of pettiness writ large. The arrests and interrogations and tortures and kidnappings and murders are the horrors here. Those experiences -- Frau Paul's imprisonment for wanting to be with her sick baby, how impossible it was for those deemed enemies of the state to live their lives or find work even after serving time -- are so deforming to these people's sense of who they are (Funder writes that Frau Paul treats herself as if she were a criminal, instead of the victim of a criminal state) that to describe them as indignities sounds pitifully inadequate.
Funder does full justice to these stories without milking them. She's a good listener and fine at channeling the voices of her interviewees. It's their own words that ennoble or exonerate or damn them. But it is in the minor incidents that you feel what it means to live under a system of rigidly implemented derangement. It's a picture of a land where Orwell's newspeak was the common parlance. And when the people who survived the GDR, or those who still mourn it, talk of that time, it's as if the dead officials and bureaucrats, and the ones still living, have risen to their former prominence to speak once more through them. For the residents of the former East Germany who appear in "Stasiland," the disappeared Wall is a phantom limb. The memory of Communist "logic" is the voice they still lapse into, a type of dadaist fascism that feels less real than imagined. When they relate their stories to Funder, the subjects here speak as if, perhaps this time, it will finally yield some sense. One of Funder's interviewees reports standing in line at the state employment office and asking the man behind her how long he had been out of work. All at once a state official swooped down on her insisting that there was no such thing as unemployment in the GDR. You are here, she was told, because you are seeking employment. The woman pointed out she was seeking employment because she was unemployed; it didn't matter. And nowhere was that doublespeak more apparent than in the name this mingy sliver of the Evil Empire gave itself: the German Democratic Republic.
"Stasiland" is, in its way, a very modest book. It is not a detailed history of the rise and fall of East Germany. Funder does not delve deeply into the reasons why so many East Germans collaborated with the state to spy and inform on their neighbors and families and lovers and friends. Some did it for money, some out of fear, others for the narcissistic thrill of feeling themselves indispensable to those in power. Funder's decision not to go too deeply into the reasons is not reluctance on her part or laziness. It's an acceptance of the worst aspects of human nature, and it shows a deep respect for the horror of the irrational by its refusal to indulge in the sort of psychologizing that only ends up trivializing it. Funder understands that the motives for some horrible behavior do not necessarily go deep. She knows that there are some lands, some corners of the human soul untouched by Rousseauist enlightenment, and that it's a fairy tale to think otherwise.
The crimes of Fascism offend our sense of justice and morality. And while the crimes of Communism do the same, the system Funder writes about here has a weird power to offend our intellect, our respect for logic, rationality, coherence, reason. At its mildest, that's the tinny reductive thinking you find in Communist art (the thing, for instance, that beneath its incredible craft, makes "Potemkin" perhaps the most simple-minded and cartoonish of all great movies). At its worst it is the sense that to have an independent or logical thought, to insist on things as they are rather than as they are said to be, is to indulge in criminal activity. Orwell chose the phrase "thought crime" well -- the crime isn't just in what you think but in thinking at all. And this is the infernal, literally maddening state that Anna Funder depicts in "Stasiland."
About the writer
Charles Taylor is a Salon contributing writer
May 28 2003
SPIES OUT TO CAPTURE THE SMELL OF PARANOIA
CAROLINE BAUM TALKS TO ANNA FUNDER, WHOSE FIRST BOOK, STASILAND, LOOKS AT LIFE WITH THE REAL BIG BROTHER
THE REALITY of life in the former East Germany, whose citizens were always under the gaze of the Stasi, or secret police, was grim: but the lengths to which the spies would go can seem ridiculous. It´s hard, for example, to take seriously the Stasis pseudo-scientific smell bottles, used to capture the odour of people they wanted to keep under surveillance. But they existed, in row upon row, neatly labelled like this year´s jam. ”The Stasi would break into people´s apartments and steal a piece of underwear and capture its odour by rubbing it onto a piece of fabric; or they would call a person in for questioning and sit them on a vinyl seat which would make them sweat and they would collect that sweat onto a piece of fabric and put that in a jar. Then they trained dogs to sniff for those smells, and bark when they found them,” says Anna Funder, whose non-fiction debut, Stasiland, reveals the extend of the surveillance and oppression of the citizens of East Germany from the point of view of those who implemented the policies of the regime and those who tried to flee it. The empty jars, freed of their bodily odours, now stand as a monument to the madness of a paranoid state, in the Stasi museum in Leipzig.
She may look like ”a good German girl”, but despite
her name, Anna Funder is part Danish, born in Australia. When the Sydney
schoolgirl chose to study German, her family were surprised. But she´s put her
fluency to great use in her first book. Being Australian was a definite
advantage during her investigations: former spies and informers felt that a
writer from such a far away country might treat them more fairly than the local
and European media who have been ”tainted” by capitalist propaganda. Rights to
the book have been sold to the US and most European territories – except for
Germany. ”Publishers there seem to think it´s too hot to handle in the current
climate,” says Funder with a sigh. ”The Germans are still very sensitive to
their past and want to move forward.”
Stasiland takes us on a grim journey into a country in which the ratio of watchers to watched was even higher than that of the Soviets under communism. But that´s nothing compared to the mind-boggling accounts and anecdotes collected by Funder, most of them tragic, some occasionally comic in a black way, about the impact of the Wall.
Along with the ”smell bottles”, the so-called puzzle women of Nuremberg – not, as it turns out, all women – seem equally worthy of fiction. Fifteen thousand sacks of hand-ripped personal files which the Stasi were intent on destroying in their final days are being painstakingly reassembled by a team of just 31 people. Their director explained to Funder that ”If we had the full complement of 40 people working on this project, on the average of 50 pages a day, it would take us 375 years to piece together all this material.” It is lowly work, and Funder was horrified when she saw the team had their windows open ”so that at any moment, if the wind had blown in, the pieces of paper would all have got messed up again. It was not being done in a systematic way.”
It took Funder five years to assemble the pieces of her own puzzle. She was, she admits, both optimistic and naive in the way she went about gathering some of her stories. She placed an ad in a newspaper in Potsdam, where many former Stasi men (they all seem to be men) live, saying: ”Australian seeks Stasi men, view conversation, discretion guaranteed.” To cap it all, she added her home phone number, never thinking about how vulnerable this might make her. ”A woman who was doing her masters thesis on the Stasi told me she´d done a letter drop to 187 Stasi houses and got only two replies, both of them declining to talk to her, so I was astonished when the phone started to ring.” She met her subjects in hotels or outside churches, where they would often identify themselves with a pre-arranged signal or gesture. All very Spy Who Came in from the Cold stuff, or as Funder puts it ”self-aggrandising nostalgia”. Some thought she might help them to promote socialism in Australia. ”One told me that socialism´s time would come again and gave me a copy of the Communist Manifesto.” Another, having asked her about her nationality, even had the nerve to commiserate with her about her mixed parentage, remarking, without a trace of irony, ”I too have impure blood”.
If the men were willing to admit their
informer pasts, it is the women in the book who tell the most harrowing stories.
That of Frau Paul, a dental technician separated from her baby by the Wall, and
Miriam, the wife of a man who died in police custody, are impossible to forget
in terms of personal courage and determination. Funder first went to West Berlin
in the late 1980s, as a student at the Free University there. A visit to Potsdam
aroused her curiosity and suspicion about what was going on on that side of the
Wall. ”At school, we´d learned about East Germany as a kind of Utopia, where
there was no unemployment, universal childcare, equal pay, and no prostitution.
But then I started to wonder why, if it was so great, they had to keep all these
people locked up.”
She first examined the Wall itself in the suburb of Kreuzburg. She later visited an anonymous looking block of flats underneath which a famous tunnel had helped more than 90 people escape during the 1960s. Now there is nothing left of the Wall, ”but a new museum has rebuilt a section of it, complete with lights and guard tower. It´s all very authentic except that it´s too pristine, because it doesn´t have any of the graffiti that was sprayed all over the Western side.”
She is acutely aware of the political extremism which continues to erupt in Germany. ”The largest number of neo-Nazis there are in what was East Germany, where unemployment is high. These kids have absolutely no consciousness of historical responsibility; no one ever talks about the fact that East Germans were Nazis too, simply because they got taken over by the Russians, and the socialists defeated fascism. So that swept the past under the carpet.”
After submerging herself in such depressing realities, Funder is now at work on a novel based on the true story of a friend imprisoned by Hitler. ”It´s about belonging and nationhood. I´ve been so incensed by Australia´s asylum seeker and refugee policy that I can´t not deal with it.” Now the question is whether her imagination will stretch as far as the Stasi´s did.
•Stasiland by Anna Funder is published by Granta Books
31 July 2003
Not all the past is a foreign country. History has a habit of lurking beneath the surface, influencing present and future. The Australian writer Anna Funder experienced this while living in post-reunification Berlin in the mid-1990s. When she visits the former Leipzig headquarters of the East German security services, she gets hooked on the personal histories of East Germans.
The Stasi, short for Staatssicherheit, spied on a vast number of East German citizens, manipulating and destroying lives. She wants to hear the other side and puts an advertisement in a paper: "Seeking: former Stasi officers and unofficial collaborators for interview. Publication in English, anonymity guaranteed." Her phone doesn't stop ringing.
One encounter leads to another. There is Miriam, who tried to climb over the wall aged 16 and got caught. Her later husband, Charlie, died in a Stasi cell. Julia had an Italian boyfriend and caught the eyes of the secret police who observed her every move, and blocked her career. Frau Paul's baby boy, in hospital in West Berlin when the wall was built, was suddenly beyond reach.
Funder has collected impressive life stories of victims and perpetrators in a divided country. She tells their tales well. But she gets little things wrong, and her German history is shaky: Germany wasn't divided into zones at the Potsdam conference; you can't go from Alexanderplatz to Ostbahnhof by tube; "Berliner Schnauze" doesn't mean "in-your-face attitude" but the cheeky, ironic way Berliners talk themselves through life; Erich Honecker was not ruling East Germany when the wall was built (that was Walter Ulbricht). The torture chambers at Hohenschönhausen prison weren't used after 1958, which makes her claim that "Not one of the torturers has been brought to justice" not more bearable, but more understandable. And so on.
Does this matter? Couldn't one answer, as Orwell did: Well, but it is essentially true! Up to a point. When not retelling other people's stories, her description of Berlin life doesn't ring quite true. The Berliners she meets by chance, the toilet lady or alcoholics in the park, are caricatures. She makes things stylish in a morbid way, painting country and people even greyer than they are. This tends to cast doubt on other things she has to say.
Funder is not travelling uncharted territory. A great number of books have been published since 1989 about East Germany and the Stasi, some by English writers. She finds no stance for herself, unable to make up her mind, for instance, whether it is a good thing the wall has almost completely vanished.
While the life-stories are touching and infuriating, she fails to offer insights that would have given her book a wider theme. Nevertheless, taken with a pinch of salt, Stasiland is worth reading. In the end, German history is too serious to be left solely to the Germans.
WORLD PRESS REVIEW
World Press Review associate editor
In 1949, a year after George Orwell published his dystopian novel 1984, the world of Big Brother became a stark reality for 17 million Germans who found themselves living in the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. A communist state that attempted to rise above Nazism, the G.D.R. soon substituted that system’s cruelties with abuses of its own. Its notorious secret service, the Stasi—which, at its height, had as many as one informer for every 6.5 people—was uniquely positioned to spy on citizens. Once it had designated someone an “enemy of the state,” the Stasi was empowered to monitor every detail of his life, from the novels on his shelves to his child’s friends or his favorite beer.
Australian Anna Funder’s first contact with East Germany came in the 1980s, when she was a student in West Berlin. “I wondered long and hard what went on behind that Wall,” she writes in Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall (Granta). A couple of day trips to the East only served to heighten her curiosity, and after the Wall fell in 1989, she returned to work in Berlin and began collecting the stories that would form the basis of her first book.
In Stasiland, Funder set out to find out how it felt to live in “the most perfected surveillance state of all time.” She interviewed Miriam Weber, who was imprisoned as a teenager after scaling the Berlin Wall, and Klaus Renft—the East’s Mick Jagger—who was once declared by authorities to “no longer exist.” She also talked to Sigrid Paul, a timid dental technician who found an untapped reservoir of courage when the Berlin Wall separated her from her baby son, desperately ill in a West Berlin hospital.
No less fascinating were the men who kept the Stasi machinery running smoothly,
and in Stasiland, Funder includes their stories too. After placing an
advertisement in a local paper, she was flooded with responses from ex-Stasi
officers who, eager to tell their stories, came out of the woodwork to describe
the bizarre methods the Stasi used to track their victims. These ranged from
planting irradiated pins in suspects’ clothes to collecting “smell samples” from
Funder’s careful portraits of the people she meets from “Stasiland” shine a dazzling light on one of the world’s most paranoid and secretive regimes, and its effects on contemporary German society. Nominated for several literary prizes in her native Australia, Stasiland is a lyrical and quirky examination of a country gone wrong.
You started this book when you were working at a TV station in West Berlin that broadcast to foreign countries, and a viewer wrote to ask why the station didn’t do any stories on the former G.D.R. Your bosses said it was because nobody was interested in East Germans, that the whole story of the G.D.R. was embarrassing and best forgotten. Was that a prevalent attitude, and is it still?
I’m probably not the best person to talk about the West German attitude toward East Germans—but yes, that’s what I did notice. It was as though the hick cousins, the ones you’re related to but embarrassed by, suddenly come to stay in your house. Given 40 years of socialism and the very deliberate attempt to create a different sort of person, it’s hardly surprising that there was mutual suspicion. I didn’t get the sense that people were proud of those who had resisted the regime. Even though those resisters were relatively few, they were certainly there.
One of those resisters was Miriam Weber, whose story set the book in motion for you. She was a teenager who was put in prison after she attempted to scale the Berlin Wall, and who subsequently lost her husband to probable Stasi torture. What was it about her story that moved you so much?
I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, but I think I can say now that I was looking for stories of courage. In a world that’s divided into Us and Them, it takes extreme courage to resist oppression—when you come across that kind of courage in a young woman like Miriam, it’s inspiring. I think I’m interested in it because I’m yellow-bellied myself—you’re always interested in what you don’t have.
Did it help that you were coming in as an outsider looking at the former East Germany, and what did the outsider’s perspective give you?
I think it helped enormously. If this book had been written by a German, people would have been looking for a political agenda and assuming that it had one. That’s not to say that I didn’t have all kinds of pre-existing prejudices. But being an outsider made my life easier in a very practical sense. Specifically, some of the Stasi men I interviewed wanted to talk to me because I was an Australian, where they wouldn’t have spoken to a German. One said to me in all seriousness, before handing over a copy of Karl Marx’s manifesto, “I want to talk to you because I think that perhaps your media in Australia will be open to socialism.” Also, it made it easier for some people to tell their stories, because if you’re telling your story to someone from Mars, you have to tell it very fully. You can’t use shorthand, or say, “Oh, you know what it’s like,” because that person doesn’t know.
What do you think accounts for the fact that so many ex-Stasi men were willing to come forward and tell their stories?
It varied. In some cases it was the chance to proselytize. Herr Winz, who I quoted before, did think that Australia would be a new market for socialism. In general, though, these were men used to having power and living in a place where there was no free press. To be stripped of authority so suddenly was a very big shock to them. I think they wanted to talk to someone who found them important. There are exceptions to that rule. Herr Christian, who worked as a Stasi encrypter and became a private detective after unification, had had some difficult times in the Stasi, and was imprisoned because he’d been unfaithful to his wife. So he had mixed feelings.
There’s a great line in the book where you say that after unification, many ex-Stasi men went into jobs in insurance, telemarketing, and real estate, and that they were suited for these jobs, having been “schooled in the art of convincing people to do things against their own self-interest.” What’s your sense of how these men have integrated into German society? Are they accepted or vilified?
My impression from being there recently is that Westerners say, “We can’t judge the Stasi because if we’d lived in that system maybe we would have collaborated.” I think that’s a well-intentioned but mistaken thing to say. You can say, in retrospect, that what happened was wrong, and that people who perpetrated this system should be punished. The ex-Stasi men have work histories, employment records, skills, and education, so their employment prospects are quite good—much better than the rest of their countrymen. Still, the older and higher ranking ones are bitter, and some belong to organizations that meet regularly and perpetrate vengeful acts on citizens’ rights campaigners. People’s brake leads have been cut, perhaps pornography will be delivered to your door that you haven’t ordered, or your child will be picked up from school by a stranger and taken to drink hot chocolate.
There was a law passed in the early 1990s where Germany decided that if you’d been in a public position, for example if you were a policeman who informed for the Stasi, you couldn’t continue to hold that position. This was for the good reason that many people would have known that that person had been in the Stasi, and it would be inappropriate for such a person to continue representing the state. But with the exception of the higher-ups, there have been very few actions taken against ex-Stasi officials.
After the fall of the G.D.R., there was a lot of discussion over whether to open up the Stasi files to the public. West Germany, in its draft unification treaty, wanted to keep them under federal control but relented after there were public protests. Does that seem to have been a good decision?
Well, it’s an interesting issue. Access to the files was very hotly debated at the beginning of the 1990s. None of the other formerly communist countries granted access the way Germany did. It was assumed that blood would run in the streets, that people would seek private revenge on their informers. That didn’t happen, and I don’t know quite why, but I think people were just too demoralized by the betrayals. Now, as a result of a legal action by former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, there are various limits being imposed on access to files, and repeated threats to shut them. It continues to be a very controversial issue.
The G.D.R. was run by “the two Erichs”—Honecker, the Prime Minister, and Mielke, the head of the Stasi. Honecker’s image was everywhere, but Mielke was an invisible, malevolent presence. What kind of a man was he?
Well, here’s a bizarre fact that I didn’t put in the book. I’d long been fascinated by George Orwell’s work, but I resisted reading 1984 until I finished the manuscript for Stasiland. After that, I devoured it, and I couldn’t believe Orwell’s prescience. When I went into Mielke’s office, I saw it had the number 101, which in 1984 is the number of the torture chamber. 1984 was banned in the G.D.R. but of course, Mielke and Honecker had access to banned material. The guide told me that Mielke wanted this number so much that even though his office was on the 2nd floor, he had the entire first floor renamed the Mezzanine so that he could call his room 101.
He was a small man who liked to display medals in shiny rows on his chest. He also liked marching songs, inspecting troops, and killing animals, which he’d lay out for inspection as though they were troops. He was deeply paranoid, sophisticated in some ways and utterly thuggish in others. By the end, it seemed as though he’d gone completely mad. After the Wall fell, he stood up in Parliament and said, “But I love you all”—as if everything he’d done had been in the service of the nation and out of love of the people.
At the height of G.D.R., there was as many as one Stasi informer per 6.5 citizens (including part-time informers). In the book, you quote various people who speculate on why East Germans were willing to inform on their neighbors. Herr Bock, a Stasi officer who recruited and trained informers, says it gave people the feeling that they were important and that they had one over on their neighbor. On the other hand, there’s a psychologist who says it satisfied something in the German mentality, a need for order and discipline. What’s your theory?
I didn’t really come to any hard and fast conclusions—but I think one of the interesting things about this situation is that it’s a slippery slope people face all the time. If your boss takes you out to lunch and asks you to criticize someone in the office, or a friend wants you to rat on another friend—those things happen frequently, and you can do it or not. The fact that this nation ran on such betrayals is a terrible exploitation of a very human trait. People from both East and West told me that Germans had a love for order, discipline, and subservience to authority. But who’s to say if those things pre-date the systems that were imposed on Germans in the 20th century—Nazism and communism.
One of the biggest questions the book poses is whether it’s healthier (for a person, a group, a country) to remember a painful past, or to try to forget it and move on. Did you come to any conclusions about that?
I think the question of how useful it is to rework trauma is a very individual one; it’s a balancing act for each person. There’s one school of thought that says you deal with a past trauma in analysis and then you move on, but that’s a fiction we tell ourselves. You don’t just get something out and move on. In a political sense, not a psychological one, I think it’s incredibly important to compensate people who’ve suffered under a terrible regime—until that’s done, there’s no moving on, and it’s a double repression.
One of the most moving sections in the book concerns Sigrid Paul, whose very sick baby son was spirited across the border to a hospital in West Berlin to save his life. Frau Paul subsequently tried to escape to the West, failed, then refused to betray the West German student who’d helped her, even when the Stasi offered her a deal that would have meant seeing her son. She was jailed for five years. One reason her story is so poignant is that she still sees herself as a criminal. Has the Federal Republic of Germany ever established any prizes or commendations for people like her who resisted Stasi blackmail?
It’s possible that there have been prizes given out to the most famous of the resisters. I started working on this book in 1995, and if that had happened at that point, I didn’t know about it. In Frau Paul’s case, not only did she not get any kind of reward, she also found it difficult to get any kind of restitution for being a political prisoner. That’s an extreme situation, but it’s not that uncommon. It’s generally quite difficult for people to prove that their current illnesses are due to having been in a Stasi prison.
Now that there’s a younger generation coming of age that didn’t experience the regime of the G.D.R. so directly, is integration becoming easier?
I think it is. I think if you were a kid or a teenager when the wall fell in 1989, you were pretty much unscathed by the regime. In 20 years time, the G.D.R. will look like a 40-year blip in German history. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be worthy of continued examination. In current-day politics we swing between left and right on a very narrow spectrum, but it’s worth remembering that extremism is never very far away. After World War II, there was a big survey conducted in Germany where people were asked about Nazism, and many people said that it was a good idea, it just suffered in the implementation. I think that sort of thinking is the beginning of the end—obviously, in any political system it’s the implementation that counts.
Are there any plans to publish Stasiland in Germany?
It’s under consideration at the moment, and I think it will be published there, but it’s a sensitive issue. So far it’s been sent to more than 20 publishers in Germany, and had more than 20 rejections. One rejection letter said, this is the best book by a foreigner on this issue—which, given that it’s the only book by a foreigner on the subject, isn’t much of a compliment—but in the current political climate, it can’t be published. It’s generally believed that people want to forget about the past and move on—but I find it curious that they wouldn’t want to know about this when so much remains unresolved. I think that as long as Miriam doesn’t know what really happened to her husband Charlie, and Frau Paul and other political prisoners don’t have restitution, this is an issue German society needs to know about.
STASILAND: TRUE STORIES FROM BEHIND THE BERLIN WALL
by Anna Funder
June 2003, 288 pages, £12.99 (UK)
PopMatters Books Critic
BBC Radio 4
Book of the Week
All Lights Out in the GDR
fällt jede Mauer" ("Eventually every wall falls")
— Graffito on the Berlin Wall
In his memoir of his imprisonment by the Nazis in the Danish fortress of Breendonk (translated into English as At the Mind's Limits, Jean Améry describes and tries to rationalise his own experiences of torture. In the course of her gripping and alarming book about the former East Germany, Anna Funder finds, in East Berlin's Hohenschönhausen Prison for Political Prisoners, the machinery of torture used by the Stasi, presumably into the late twentieth century. "It seemed too primitive for the mid-20th century and too primitive for here. This contraption belonged further east and further back in time, in some Pythonesque sideshow of history."
That "further east" is a telling comment, implying that torture is something Westerners associate with non-Western cultures -- and yet, as Améry and Funder amply demonstrate, 20th century Europe seems to lead the field in the institutional technologies of torture. Améry asserts that he who has been tortured remains forever tortured. Funder's Stasiland insists that a society damaged in the way the former GDR was will take an awfully long time to recover.
The collapse of the GDR in 1989, signalling the end of Eastern Bloc Communism and a drastic shift in the balance of world power, was very much presented by the Western media in large-scale terms -- velvet revolutions, mass protests against and the eventual demolition of the Berlin Wall, the end of an ideology and of a society of oppression, the culmination of nearly fifty years of political secrecy and violently enacted dogma. Stasiland addresses, in various ways, all of these broad issues through their flip side, personal narratives of individual lives, revealing other orders of experience and unfamiliar levels of suffering.
Funder presents what is essentially a journalistic narrative in the style of a fictional one, so that characters and thematic threads link up to elaborate deeper symbolic significances. Her ostensible subjects, the Stasi (Staatssicherheit, the State Security or Secret Police) and its effects on and legacies for the lives of East German people, expand into a broader discussion of how people organise their lives under intolerable conditions, how such conditions arose in the wake of the second world war, and how the last decade of a newly unified Germany has responded to these historical and contemporary realities.
The central problem that Funder explores is rooted in a statistic mentioned early in the book: "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." This means an informer for every family, and an unthinkable post-liberation situation in which one in six people may be the one who informed on you. Furthermore, the Stasi kept files on approximately six million people, a third of the country's population.
The Stasi's method of imposing its ideology was to aim at co-opting everybody into its own network, so that there could be nothing outside, a policy excluding the possibility of disagreement. Funder observes drily that the Stasi attained such a level of detail in the information it accumulated about the people of the GDR, that it failed to predict the 1989 revolution, and thus its own and its country's consequent demise.
The world Funder enters as an investigative journalist is the post-1989 result of this level of detailed surveillance. It's also a world of bizarre anachronism, difficult to locate in terms of contemporary realities. Perhaps this is easiest exemplified in the gender divide that Funder alludes to and illustrates. The Stasi were nearly all men, and their victims, in Funder's representative sample, largely women. "We pass a toilet with 'H' for Herren on it", she writes: "Women couldn't get past Colonel rank and there were only three of them anyway. This was a Männerklub." The world of this 'Man's Club' is also, understandably, threatening, and Funder's writing captures well the atmosphere of residual menace experienced by a young female journalist encountering patriarchal dinosaurs.
But there are moments of grim comedy too ("Pythonesque" is Funder's own word, quoted above), not least the revelation of the Stasi's ludicrous plans to invade West Germany, which reveal the impossibility of their imagining a world other than the one they created:
The plans are methodical. They include the division of the 'new territory' into Stasi branch offices, and figures for exactly how many Stasi men should be assigned to each. And there's a medal, cast in bronze, silver and gold by order of Honecker [the political leader of the GDR], to be awarded, after successful invasion, for 'Courage in the Face of the Western Enemy'. No-one in the West had imagined the extent of the Stasi's ambitions.
Funder's narrative is held together by the personal stories she recounts, either those of the former Stasi men she interviews, or those gradually revealed by the women she befriends. As an Australian of Danish descent, she has the cultural outsider's gift for the genuinely naïve response that enables levels of confidence unattainable to the insider, particularly the insider of this still-paranoid culture. The narratives of Miriam, Frau Paul and other women whose lives were devastated by the Stasi make chilling reading, and deserve to speak for themselves, in much the same way as the narratives told by the children transported out of Germany and Austria in 1938-39 on the Kindertransport can't really be adequately glossed, but demand to be heard in their entirety.
Stasiland offers a careful but powerful analysis of what went wrong in East Germany after 1945, and how it affected the people Funder interviews. It is an important book, offering no simple solutions or easy generalisations, but reminding us of both the dangers of forgetting and the horrors of remembering -- as Funder asks in relation to another leader of Germany, "To remember or forget -- which is healthier? To demolish or fence it off? To dig it up or leave it in the ground?"
26 June 2003
Reviewed by Felicity Bloch
March 23 2002
by Anna Funder
Forty years of communism in East Germany ended on November 9, 1989. That night, 10,000 East Germans streamed unobstructed past bewildered guards, across checkpoints and fortifications to the West. A mass assault on the wall that had divided Berlin since 1961 was captured in dramatic televised scenes. This was the moment when snowballing civil disobedience brought down Erich Honecker's bankrupt, geriatric regime. A year later the two Germanies were formally reunified.
The euphoria was shortlived. As painful as the economic and social dislocations of reunification with the politically progressive, capitalist West was East Germany's psychic reckoning with the past. Vergangenheitsbewaltigung was the term coined in Germany for (literally) "coming to grips with" its Nazi history. Now, for the second time in 50 years, Germany was confronted by the complicity of its citizens in systematic political oppression on a vast scale.
Australian Anna Funder worked in a Berlin TV studio in the 1990s. Her boss turned down her proposal for a program documenting the experience of former East Germans on the grounds that these historical losers were not newsworthy. They were "just a bunch of downtrodden whingers, with a couple of mild-mannered civil rights activists among them, and only a couple at that ... [who] had the rotten luck to end up behind the Iron Curtain".
Funder began researching the subject herself. In addition to resisters, and victims, she met former collaborators and agents of the Stasi, East Germany's bloated spy service. Her book Stasiland reveals how ordinary people either can or can't adapt to living in a totalitarian system. But with the exception of her drinking partner, the amiably alcoholic "Mick Jegger" of the East, no-one she interviewed was happy or whole. Once broken, psyches and bodies can't be put back together again.
Communism let East Germany off the hook with regards to its Nazi past. While claiming credit for defeating Hitler, in practice the communists were the successors to the Nazis, inheriting their mindset and political habits. Stasi rule was a Kafkaesque combination of pedantic regulation and violence. Individuals were crushed for trivial acts of noncomformity. People were victimised simply for refusing to act as informers. The Stasi blackmailed adolescents; it hurt and harassed young children, even babies, to punish their parents. Yet its paranoid institutional culture also prevented it from accurately forecasting the regime's sudden implosion.
Unlike the Nazis, the communists never enjoyed real popular support. Control was maintained by unprecedented levels of surveillance. The Stasi employed one agent or informer for every 50 people, a ratio exponentially higher than the KGB or the Gestapo.
In the final weeks before the transfer of power, Stasi officials were shredding by machine and by hand the 180 kilometres of files they had accumulated on their citizens, the equivalent of all the documents in German history since the Middle Ages. Eventually, after agonising debate, the federal government legislated to preserve the intact files and a squad of "puzzle women" was employed to reinstate the hand-ripped files. At the current rate of expenditure ($100 million a year for the file authority), this task is slated to take another 300-odd years.
The consequences of this experiment in openness may be as damaging, even for the innocent, as the initial violation inflicted by the spying. The reputations and careers of outed informers have been destroyed. For their victims, the pain of betrayal is magnified by the knowledge that the informers were workmates, friends, even relatives. Families have split up.
Stasiland is an appealing blend of investigative and reflective reporting, with the narrative drive of powerful human-interest stories. The warmth or sharpness of Funder's own responses to characters and situations is part of the story, though sometimes the youthful "savvy" of her authorial voice can be jarring.
There is no denying Funder's journalistic talents. Unforgettable stories drive home the human cost of an awful political system. Informed judgements and historical background are communicated with deceptive ease. Targeted at a broad audience, Stasiland is compelling reading.
Felicity Bloch is a Melbourne reviewer.
Stasi terror by the ton
Reviewed by Andrew Roberts, Evening Standard (30 June 2003)
These two books, each in very different ways, brilliantly illustrate the weird, horrifying, viciously cruel place that was Cold War East Germany. The Ministry for State Security - known as the Stasi, or "The Firm" - ran the country as the most totalitarian of all the satellite police states of the Warsaw Pact.
The Stasi outperformed even the KGB for the ruthlessness and cold-blooded efficiency with which they promoted their secret programme of "Aggression through conspiracy".
Fortunately, many thousands of tons of Stasi documents fell into the hands of the forces of democracy when East Germany finally collapsed in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Although a lot of the most sensitive were burned, shredded and simply "lost", enough survived for historians to be able to piece together vital information about how the Stasi operated. If placed end-to-end, the Stasi's files would stretch for 112 miles.
The first and perhaps most surprising aspect of the Stasi was its enormous size. Whereas Hitler's Gestapo made do with 13,500 officers, the Stasi had no fewer than two million people on its books, either in uniform or in active collaboration, amounting to more than 12 per cent of the entire population of East Germany.
"There was someone reporting to the Stasi on their fellows and friends," writes Anna Funder, "in every school, every factory, every apartment block, every pub." It was precisely the kind of all-pervading totalitarianism predicted by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Funder, an Australian TV researcher, visited the former GDR in 1996 to investigate what she calls "Stasiland" and met several of the heroic resisters who were persecuted by the Stasi.
No one has ever been indicted for the torture and murders practised by the Stasi, even though there is plenty of evidence from the files to show who did what.
Funder met Miriam Weber, whose husband Charles was beaten to death by Stasi thugs in prison. She herself risked everything to get over the Wall to the West and was brutally maltreated in prison after she set off a trip-wire at the very last moment and was caught.
As well as the horror, Funder writes superbly of the absurdities of the Stasi, such as their practice of keeping the underpants or knickers of tens of thousands of GDR citizens in carefully labelled jars.
Believing that everyone had a separate and identifiable odour, the Stasi collected and catalogued vast numbers of items of clothing - usually underwear - including those of the entire political opposition of Saxony.
Dr Anthony Glees, from Brunel University, has concentrated on the extensive and unrelenting efforts of the foreign section of the Stasi to penetrate British elites in order to discover our strategic, defence and foreign policy secrets. It was something at which they were, in the words of one very senior MI6 officer, "very, very good".
Working from the Stasi's own files, Glees painstakingly uncovered a very disturbing series of facts about the kind of people whom Lenin once called "useful idiots" - British subjects who virtually did the Stasi's work for them, acting either as witting or unwitting "agents of influence" or " persons of trust".
Based at Chatham House in St James's Square, The Royal Institute of International Affairs has much to answer for in the way it affiliated itself with the East German Institute for Policy and Economics - a Stasi front organisation - which introduced a Stasi agent, Dr HH Kasper, into the heart of Britain's foremost foreign policy institute.
Either that agent or another codenamed Eckhart photocopied passports and sent back reams of useful information to the Stasi HQ at Normanstrasse in East Berlin.
The man who introduced Kasper to Chatham House and then appeared to carry on almost a one-man policy of extreme detente with East Germany was the British defence expert, John Roper, who is today the Lib-Dem chief whip in the House of Lords.
Working entirely from the Stasi's own extensive files, Glees unhesitatingly names Roper as being not only an "agent of influence" of the Stasi, but also a "person of trust".
He had a Stasi codename and, according to Glees, "was ready to extend to the East Germans, whom he says he knew included members of the Stasi and those reporting to it, a hot hand of friendship.
"He was to be a conduit which would propel their key people - Stasi people - deep into the heart of the British Establishment and into defence and security circles." It is a very serious allegation.
Reading the evidence that is presented here about Roper's activities in the late 1980s, and his often contradictory explanations of them, as well as his failure to inform MI5 of his knowledge that Stasi agents had infiltrated high-level meetings between the Foreign Office and East German dissidents, one wonders whether the scrutiny committee of the House of Lords was fully conversant with these matters when he was appointed a peer in 2000?
He is certainly not a man who could ever look poor Miriam Weber in the face.
Andrew Roberts's Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
The history men fall out over
tales of spying, betrayal and buffoonery
Lib Dem peer accused of being a 'Stasi agent of influence'
Wednesday June 11, 2003
The historian Anthony Glees, in what will prove either to be a reputation-making or a reputation-busting book released this week, is accusing a senior Liberal Democrat politician and fellow-academic, John Roper, of having been an "agent of influence" for the East German communist secret police, the Stasi.
Lord Roper rejects the charge indignantly. The 68-year-old former Labour and SDP MP says he was engaged in building bridges with East Germany in the 1980s as part of a Foreign Office-approved policy of thawing relations.
He was deceived, he says, about the background of an undercover Stasi officer he employed as a research fellow when he was director of studies at Chatham House. Friends of Lord Roper describe Professor Glees as having "a chip on his shoulder" and looking for a succès de scandale .
Lord Roper says Prof Glees appears to be promoting the philosophy of the Iraq arch-hawk, Richard Perle, now an influential figure in George Bush's Washington circle, but then a dedicated cold warrior who argued that contacts with Soviet bloc regimes only served to give sustenance to the enemy.
Friends of Prof Glees, on the other hand, privately describe Lord Roper as "a pompous buffoon who was totally out of his depth" in his contacts with the communists. At the heart of the row is a rumbling controversy about the identity of the so-called "Chatham House spy".
The Royal Institute of International Affairs, as Chatham House is officially known, has long been the bastion of foreign policy thinking, with close links to the defence and political establishment. It famously gave its name to the Chatham House rules: off-the-record in journalistic parlance.
Prof Glees, a German speaker, has successfully used his knowledge of the surviving fragmentary Stasi files, some of which have only recently been decoded, to expose a succession of minor British figures as having - wittingly or unwittingly - helped the secret police in the days of the cold war.
He alleges that the Stasi successfully penetrated Chatham House, where Lord Roper was director of studies in the 1980s and filed a series of secret intelligence reports on defence and political topics which might have been gleaned from those around Roper.
This culminated, he says, in Lord Roper himself organising a series of round tables of which a Stasi secret report said: "Roper's suggestions offer the possibility of executing an exceptionally effective measure in support of foreign information gathering, strengthening our contact to leading British scientific institutions and to develop contacts in the security policy and military spheres."
Yesterday the Guardian traced one key "Chatham House spy", who described how their espionage operation worked. He was Edgar Uher, a Stasi officer and at the time what Prof Glees describes as "an attractive and fetching young man in London".
He is now running a motor parts business in Berlin, along with old former Stasi comrades.
Mr Uher, whose code-name was Eckhart, says he simply photocopied documents and talked to British and US research fellows at Chatham House where he was a member.
His fellow spy, Hans Kasper - code-named Kunze - who became a research fellow at Chatham House, did talk to Lord Roper, Mr Uher agrees. But he pours cold water on any suggestion that Lord Roper himself was involved in espionage. "John Roper was merely a discussion contact for my colleague Kunze, but never more. It is ridiculous to suspect him or anybody other from Chatham House of having actively passed information on to us."
Mr Uher takes a rather sardonic view of the change in his fortunes over the past decade, from secret policeman to entrepreneur: "I reflect occasionally a little on the merits of both those lives. My perception has changed of what a capitalist is. I did not realise that he has to work so hard for his money. Now I know."
He is dismissive about the havoc that is being caused by the secret reports, unearthed by Prof Glees in the old Stasi files, that he and his colleague, Hans Hendrik Kasper, used to file from London more than a decade ago to earn their Stasi pay.
Mr Uher says: "Whether Glees likes it or not, all the information compiled was information I (or Kasper) had gleaned from papers openly distributed at Chatham House of discussions with people working there or lectures held there - a method that was called "abschöpfung" (skimming) and which did not involve recruited spies. No money ever passed hands. There was only the occasional lunch at the Italian round the corner."
He will not identify the US and UK research fellows he says he pumped. "People like Glees, or even worse, the Daily Mail, would make wrong accusations. I can only repeat that none of them ever behaved in any way disloyal to Britain."
Prof Glees' publishers, Simon & Schuster sold serial rights to the Times. It is believed they paid between £15,000 and £25,000. But the Times abruptly cancelled their plans this week after Lord Roper said the accusations were defamatory.
There are three main issues Prof Glees raises. The first is that Lord Roper allowed himself to be exploited by organising a series of round tables and by proposing to arrange anniversary celebrations and a study group for the East Germans at which intelligence officers were present.
Lord Roper says this is perfectly true, but he was pursuing detente at the request of the Foreign Office. "If I was an agent of influence, it was actually on behalf of the Foreign Office."
Second, Prof Glees says that Hans Hendrik Kasper, shown in the files as a Stasi officer formerly based at the embassy in London, was recruited by Lord Roper as a research fellow at Chatham House. Lord Roper says the name was put forward by an East German thinktank and he was deceived. "I'm rather horrified that I didn't ask for his CV at the time". He was unaware Kasper had previously been a London diplomatic attaché.
Third, Prof Glees debates whether, before the round table initiative, the Stasi got privileged access to Chatham House material on which they appear to have filed "secret" intelligence reports to Berlin, particularly a defence policy study Lord Roper did in 1984. Lord Roper says he didn't talk to any East Germans in this period, and has no idea how the material - in any case unclassified - was gleaned.
Mr Uher, the Stasi officer concerned, exonerates Lord Roper from any conscious passing of information. He recalls how he himself used to photocopy reports and papers, and in effect passed them off to the Stasi as top secret intelligence.
The irony of this quarrel about the ghosts of the past is that both Lord Roper's hand of friendship and Mr Uher's spying proved irrelevant. The East German regime fell immediately afterwards.
The Stasi files show that by 1987 Roper had indeed become their source and a 'person of trust' in Stasi terms and that by 1988 we are right to regard him as an agent of influence. Lord Roper accepts that there is remarkable congruence between his expertise and the subject matter of many of 'Eckhart's' reports and he can offer no explanation for this. Roper is a perfect fit for the Stasi's source inside Chatham House. The Stasi's targeting of Roper was clearly an East German intelligence success. By 1989, Lord Roper was ready to extend to the East Germans, who he says he knew included members of the Stasi a hot hand of friendship. He was to be a conduit which would propel their key people deep into the heart of the British establishment and into defence and security circles. For the reality of the appalling police state, men like Lord Roper would substitute an image of a communist regime with whom Britain could happily do business. As someone unlikely ever to gain the high government office to which he once seemed destined the idea of being a leading figure in détente policy towards the GDR may have been attractive.
The extracts give a very misleading account. Pauline Neville-Jones, head of policy planning staff at the FCO, asked me as head of the international security programme at Chatham House if I would organise and lead the first British GDR round table in East Berlin in 1986. Although I had had relatively little contact with the GDR, I assumed I was asked because the Foreign Office felt I had a reasonable understanding of the potential problems of dealing with communist societies but shared their view that such discussion could be beneficial to the UK and, one hoped, in the long run to our communist partner. The first discussions were not particularly fruitful. The GDR side were far more inflexible in their attitudes than their counterparts in other East European countries. The third round table in 1989 was much more relaxed and there was substantive discussion. We felt that we were on the threshold of change in the GDR but could not have guessed how substantial it would be.
The Stasi Files, by Anthony Glees, will be published by Simon & Schuster on June 16, at £20.
Wall fall down
By KATHARINE HAMER
Saturday, Oct. 11, 2003
Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall
By Anna Funder
Granta Books, 286 pages, $25.95
I spent last summer in Potsdam, Germany. My host took me on a cycling tour along what looked to me like an overgrown ditch. "You know what was here?" he asked. "This was where the wall ran." From my vantage point, I could see nothing but long grass.
He also pointed out the bridge between Potsdam and Berlin, "where spies were handed over," and the old KGB house around the corner from his apartment. From a Westerner's perspective, in 2003, it all sounds too fantastical. Did anybody really believe the storylines in James Bond movies or John le Carré novels? But this all happened.
In August, 1961, 21-year-old Hagen Koch drew a line in red paint across the middle of Berlin. Overnight, a fence filled in the line, and then bricks were piled on top of it, separating neighbours and family members on either side. Koch's cartography was to change the course of life for an entire generation of Germans. He's one of the people who share their remarkable stories with writer Anna Funder in Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall.
In 1997, Funder, an Australian lawyer and documentary filmmaker, was writer-in-residence at the Australia Center in Potsdam, though it was far from her first visit to the country. Stasiland is the product of a journalistic hunger, propelled by her TV-station bosses, who told Funder the "Ossis" (East Germans) were nothing more than complainers, and that 40 years of Communist rule were a historical episode of no lasting importance. Funder quickly discovered how wrong that assertion was.
She found Stasi -- short for Staatssicherheitsdienst, or State Security Service -- museums full of glass cases containing dotty spy paraphernalia: wigs and fake moustaches; handbags concealing microphones; suitcases that could conceal adults. In some ways, what was once most ominous is now like a Monty Python sketch. Funder notes a list of Stasi rules on how to trail a subject, including the suggestion to bend down and tie one's shoelaces when cover is threatened. The whole thing is redolent of comedy trench coats and the Ministry of Silly Walks.
In fact, parts of the book are like falling through Alice's looking glass into a topsy-turvy world where teenagers are put in prison for having the wrong boyfriends or for distributing "political" leaflets, and Stasi men hover at the funeral of a man who died in their custody, because even the funeral home was in cahoots with the secret service.
There are also alarming parallels with the Nazi regime the East German government claimed to despise: the detention centres, the interrogations, the ruination of lives. There were many suspicious deaths and rampant paranoia. It was a society of "us" and "them."
The power in East Germany lay mostly with the Stasi. By the time the Wall fell, 97,000 people worked for them and there were 173,000 informers, one for every 6.5 East German citizens. They kept files, trailed people, bugged calls and held interrogations at the drop of a hat. They pole-axed innumerable lives at whim: people whose careers were stalled before they started, people who were asked to inform on their neighbours.
We've doubtless all read about these things before. The difference with Funder's book is that she goes deep into the human side of the story, interviewing those who lived through these events, including the Stasi officers she found through personal ads. With the exception of historian Timothy Garton Ash, who spent many years living and working in the former East Bloc countries, few writers have managed to explore the nature of the beast in such accessible, humanistic language.
Funder's book reads more like a novel than a true-life documentation. She displays a humble sympathy for her subjects, and shares the heartbreak of those who will never stop searching for answers. Their stories are reported matter-of-factly, with cut-glass sentences, rather than via journalese or sound bites -- which only makes them more shocking.
It is astonishing to discover how many of these people thought their lives were better before. At least you could afford to buy things, they say. Many still believe in the second coming of socialism, especially the former Stasi officers, living in their glorious pasts.
As reported recently in this newspaper, there is now a trend among hip young Berliners, who don't even remember the Wall, for Soviet-style hammer and sickles on T-shirts; there's a sudden cool factor to driving Trabants. It's something Funder also documents, with a mild sense of disbelief.
"Things have been put behind glass," she writes, "but it is not yet over."
There is doubtless no accident that the book starts and ends on a train platform: For those who lived through the regime, this remains an ongoing journey.
Vancouver writer Katharine Hamer is working on a novel set in the former East Germany.
Stasi exposé wins £30,000 book prize
A highly acclaimed exposé of the former East German secret services has won the £30,000 Samuel Johnson Prize, the world's richest non-fiction award. Nigel Reynolds reports.
A highly acclaimed exposé of the former East German secret services has won the £30,000 Samuel Johnson Prize, the world's richest non-fiction award.
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall is the first book by Anna Funder, an Australian lawyer and television producer.
She spent five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall interviewing operatives of the Stasi and the organisation's victims in the former German Democratic Republic, and unearthed hundreds of dramatic accounts of the cruelty inflicted by the state on its citizens.
Her interviewees included the man who painted the white line to mark where the Berlin Wall was to be built and a woman who, as a 16-year-old, was caught as she tried to scale the wall in 1968.
Michael Wood, the chairman of the judges, described Stasiland as "an intimate portrait, both touching and funny, of survivors caught between their desire to forget and the need to remember.
"A beautifully executed first book, Stasiland deserves to be packed with the holiday reading and enjoyed by anyone who loves good writing."
Funder, who was born in Melbourne in 1966, was told that no ex-Stasi would talk to her when she began her research in the former East Germany. So she advertised in the personal columns of a Potsdam newspaper. "The phone rang hot," she said.
Though the book has been widely praised in Britain and America, Funder could not at first get it published in Germany. Eventually a small Berlin publisher picked it up but the author was given a hostile reception when she went to promote it there. She was attacked for being an outsider and for reopening painful wounds.
The author, who is heavily pregnant and was nearly stopped from flying to Britain, received her award last night at The Savoy Hotel in London.
The beaten finalists were Gulag: A History of the Soviet Camps, by Anne Applebaum; John Clare: A Biography, by Jonathan Bate; A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson; The Zanzibar Chest: A Memoir of Love and War, by Aidan Hartley; and Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, by Tom Holland.
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