“Ostalgie is a German term referring to nostalgia for life in the
former East Germany. It is a portmanteau of the German words Ost
(east) and Nostalgie (nostalgia).

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and German reunification in
the following year, most reminders of the old socialist regime were
swept away as former citizens of the German Democratic Republic rushed
to embrace their newfound political and economic western-ness.
Initially, all GDR brands of products disappeared from the stores and
were replaced by Western products, regardless of their quality.
However, with the passing of time some East Germans began to feel
nostalgia for certain aspects of their lives in East Germany. Ostalgie
particularly refers to the nostalgia for aspects of regular daily life
and culture in the former GDR, which disappeared after reunification.
There are however, many former East and West German citizens who deny
the existence of these cultural divisions as well as the existence of
separate East and West German perspectives.

Many businesses in Germany cater to those who feel Ostalgie and have
begun providing them with artifacts that remind them of life under the
old regime; artefacts that imitate the old ones. Now available are
formerly defunct brands of East German foodstuffs, old state
television programmes on video and DVD, and the previously widespread
Wartburg and Trabant cars. In addition, life in the GDR has been the
subject of several recent films, including Leander Haußmann’s
Sonnenallee (1999), Wolfgang Becker’s internationally successful Good
Bye Lenin! (2003), and Carsten Fiebeler’s Kleinruppin forever (2004).
The term Ostalgie (along with the phrase Soviet chic) is occasionally
used to refer to nostalgia for life under the socialist system in
other former communist countries of Eastern Europe, most notably
Poland and the Soviet Union.”


“Shredded documents can be reassembled manually. After the Iranian
Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979,
Iranians enlisted local carpet weavers who reconstructed the pieces by
hand. The recovered documents would be later released by the Iranian
regime in a series of books called “Documents from the US espionage
Den”. The US government subsequently improved its shredding
techniques, by adding pulverizing, pulping, and chemical


“Some 16,250 sacks containing pieces of 45 million shredded documents
were found and confiscated after the reunification of Germany in 1990.
Reconstruction work began 12 years ago but 24 people have been able to
reassemble the contents of only 323 sacks. Berlin’s Fraunhofer
Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology estimates that
putting everything back together by hand would take 30 people 600 to
800 years.”

Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany’s Secret Police
BY Andrew Curry  /  01.18.08  /  andrew [at] andrewcurry [dot] com

Solving a Billion-Piece Puzzle

Ulrike Poppe used to be one of the most surveilled women in East
Germany. For 15 years, agents of the Stasi (short for
Staatssicherheitsdienst, or State Security Service) followed her,
bugged her phone and home, and harassed her unremittingly, right up
until she and other dissidents helped bring down the Berlin Wall in
1989. Today, the study in Poppe’s Berlin apartment is lined floor to
12-foot ceiling with bookshelves full of volumes on art, literature,
and political science. But one shelf, just to the left of her desk, is
special. It holds a pair of 3-inch-thick black binders — copies of the
most important documents in Poppe’s secret police files. This is her
Stasi shelf.

Poppe hung out with East German dissidents as a teenager, got
blackballed out of college, and was busted in 1974 by the police on
the thin pretext of “asocial behavior.” On her way out of jail, Stasi
agents asked her to be an informant, to spy on her fellow radicals,
but she refused. (“I was just 21, but I knew I shouldn’t trust the
Stasi, let alone sign anything,” she says.) She went on to become a
founding member of a reform-minded group called Women for Peace, and
was eventually arrested 13 more times — and imprisoned in 1983 for
treason. Only an international outcry won her release.

Poppe learned to recognize many of the men assigned to tail her each
day. They had crew cuts and never wore jeans or sneakers. Sometimes
they took pictures of her on the sidewalk, or they piled into a white
sedan and drove 6 feet behind her as she walked down the street.
Officers waited around the clock in cars parked outside her top-floor
apartment. After one of her neighbors tipped her off, she found a bug
drilled from the attic of the building into the ceiling plaster of her
living room.

When the wall fell, the Stasi fell with it. The new government,
determined to bring to light the agency’s totalitarian tactics,
created a special commission to give victims access to their personal
files. Poppe and her husband were among the first people in Germany
allowed into the archives. On January 3, 1992, she sat in front of a
cart loaded with 40 binders dedicated to “Circle 2” — her codename, it
turned out. In the 16 years since, the commission has turned up 20
more Circle 2 binders on her.

The pages amounted to a minute-by-minute account of Poppe’s life, seen
from an unimaginable array of angles. Video cameras were installed in
the apartment across the street. Her friends’ bedrooms were bugged and
their conversations about her added to the file. Agents investigated
the political leanings of her classmates from middle school and opened
all of her mail. “They really tried to capture everything,” she says.
“Most of it was just junk.”

But some of it wasn’t. And some of it … Poppe doesn’t know. No one
does. Because before it was disbanded, the Stasi shredded or ripped up
about 5 percent of its files. That might not sound like much, but the
agency had generated perhaps more paper than any other bureaucracy in
history — possibly a billion pages of surveillance records, informant
accounting, reports on espionage, analyses of foreign press, personnel
records, and useless minutiae. There’s a record for every time anyone
drove across the border.

In the chaos of the days leading up to the actual destruction of the
wall and the fall of East Germany’s communist government, frantic
Stasi agents sent trucks full of documents to the Papierwolfs and
Reisswolfs — literally “paper-wolves” and “rip-wolves,” German for
shredders. As pressure mounted, agents turned to office shredders, and
when the motors burned out, they started tearing pages by hand — 45
million of them, ripped into approximately 600 million scraps of

There’s no way to know what bombshells those files hide. For a country
still trying to come to terms with its role in World War II and its
life under a totalitarian regime, that half-destroyed paperwork is a
tantalizing secret. The machine-shredded stuff is confetti, largely
unrecoverable. But in May 2007, a team of German computer scientists
in Berlin announced that after four years of work, they had completed
a system to digitally tape together the torn fragments. Engineers hope
their software and scanners can do the job in less than five years —
even taking into account the varying textures and durability of paper,
the different sizes and shapes of the fragments, the assortment of
printing (from handwriting to dot matrix) and the range of edges (from
razor sharp to ragged and handmade.) “The numbers are tremendous. If
you imagine putting together a jigsaw puzzle at home, you have maybe
1,000 pieces and a picture of what it should look like at the end,”
project manager Jan Schneider says. “We have many millions of pieces
and no idea what they should look like when we’re done.”

As the enforcement arm of the German Democratic Republic’s Communist
Party, the Stasi at its height in 1989 employed 91,000 people to watch
a country of 16.4 million. A sprawling bureaucracy almost three times
the size of Hitler’s Gestapo was spying on a population a quarter that
of Nazi Germany. Unlike the prison camps of the Gestapo or the summary
executions of the Soviet Union’s KGB, the Stasi strove for subtlety.
“They offered incentives, made it clear people should cooperate,
recruited informal helpers to infiltrate the entire society,” says
Konrad Jarausch, a historian at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill. “They beat people up less often, sure, but they
psychologically trampled people. Which is worse depends on what you

That finesse helped the Stasi quell dissent, but it also fostered a
pervasive and justified paranoia. And it generated an almost
inconceivable amount of paper, enough to fill more than 100 miles of
shelves. The agency indexed and cross-referenced 5.6 million names in
its central card catalog alone. Hundreds of thousands of “unofficial
employees” snitched on friends, coworkers, and their own spouses,
sometimes because they’d been extorted and sometimes in exchange for
money, promotions, or permission to travel abroad.

For such an organized state, East Germany fell apart in a decidedly
messy way. When the country’s eastern bloc neighbors opened their
borders in the summer of 1989, tens of thousands of East Germans fled
to the West through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. By autumn, protests
and riots had spread throughout East Germany, with the participants
demanding an end to restrictions on travel and speech. In the first
week of October, thousands of demonstrators in Dresden turned violent,
throwing rocks at police, who broke up the crowd with dogs,
truncheons, and water cannons. The government described the thousand
people they arrested as “hooligans” to state-controlled media.

But on October 9, the situation escalated. In Leipzig that night,
70,000 people marched peacefully around the city’s ring road — which
goes right past the Stasi office. Agents asked for permission from
Berlin to break up the demonstration, but this was just a few months
after the Chinese government had brutally shut down pro-democracy
protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, to international condemnation.
The East German government didn’t want a similar bloodbath, so the
Stasi did nothing. A week later, 120,000 people marched; a week after
that, the number was 300,000 — in a city with a population of only

In November, hundreds of East and West Berliners began dismantling the
wall that bisected the city. But the communist government was still in
power, negotiating with dissidents and hoping to hold on. Inside the
Stasi, leaders hoped that if they weathered whatever changes were
imminent, they’d be able to get back to business under a different
name. But just in case, the head of the Stasi ordered the agency to
start destroying the incriminating paperwork it had on hand.

In several small cities, rumors started circulating that records were
being destroyed. Smoke, fires, and departing trucks confirmed the
fears of angry Germans, who rushed in to their local Stasi offices,
stopped the destruction, and spontaneously organized citizen
committees that could post guards to secure the archives.
Demonstrators spray-painted the walls with slogans like “The files
belong to us” and “Stasi get out.” Finally, on the evening of January
15, 1990, thousands of demonstrators pushed in the front gate of the
Stasi’s fortified Berlin compound.

At headquarters, agents had been more discreet than their colleagues
in the hinterlands. Burning all those files would tip off angry
Berliners that something was up. When the first destruction orders
came in, they began stacking bags of paper in the “copper kettle,” a
copper-lined basement designed as a surveillance-proof computer room.
The room quickly filled with bags of shredded and torn paper. Today,
even the people gathering and archiving the Stasi files express
grudging admiration for the achievement. “Destroying paper is shit
work,” says government archivist Stephan Wolf. “After two days your
joints hurt. They ripped for two months.”

But a few days after demonstrators breached the Stasi front gate, the
archives still hadn’t been found. A citizen group coalesced,
determined to track them down. Among the searchers was a 23-year-old
plumber named David Gill, a democracy activist barred from university
because his father was a Protestant minister. He was secretly studying
theology at an underground seminary in Berlin.

Accompanied by cooperative police, Stasi agents led Gill and his
compatriots through twisting alleys and concrete-walled courtyards,
all eerily empty. Finally they arrived at a nondescript office
building in the heart of the compound. Inside, there was more paper
than he had ever imagined. “We had all lived under the pressure of the
Stasi. We all knew they could know everything,” Gill says today. “But
we didn’t understand what that meant until that moment. Suddenly it
was palpable.”

Gill and his crew of volunteers preserved whatever they could,
commandeering trucks and borrowing cars to collect files from Stasi
safe houses and storage facilities all over Berlin. Most of it was
still intact. Some of it was shredded, unrecoverable. They threw that
away. But then there were also bags and piles of hand-torn stuff,
which they saved without knowing what to do with it. “We didn’t have
time to look at it all,” Gill says. “We had no idea what it would

Bertram Nickolay grew up in Saarland, a tiny German state close to
Luxembourg that is about as far from East Germany as you could go in
West Germany. He came to West Berlin’s Technical University in 1974 to
study engineering, the same year Ulrike Poppe was placed under Stasi
surveillance on the other side of the Berlin Wall. A Christian, he
felt out of place on a campus still full of leftist radicals praising
East German communism and cursing the US.

Instead, Nickolay gravitated toward exiled East German dissidents and
democracy activists. “I had a lot of friends who were writers and
intellectuals in the GDR. There was an emotional connection,” he says.

Today, Nickolay is head of the Department of Security Technology for
the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology.
Fraunhofer is Europe’s largest research nonprofit, with 56 branches in
Germany alone and an annual budget of more than $1 billion.
(Fraunhofer researchers invented the MP3 audio codec, which netted the
society more than $85 million in license fees in 2006.)

In 1996, Nickolay saw a TV news report on an unusual project. A team
working for the Stasi Records Office (BStU), the newly created
ministry responsible for managing the mountain of paper left behind by
the secret police, had begun manually puzzling together bags full of
documents, scrap by scrap. The results were explosive: Here was
additional proof that East Germany sheltered terrorists, ran national
sports doping programs, and conducted industrial espionage across
Western Europe. BStU’s hand-assembly program also exposed hundreds of
the Stasi’s secret informants — their ranks turned out to include
bishops, university professors, and West German bureaucrats.

But the work is painfully slow. Gerd Pfeiffer, the project’s manager,
says he and a dwindling staff have reassembled 620,500 pages of Stasi
secrets in the 13 years since the project began. That works out to one
bag per worker per year — 327 bags so far — and 700 years to finish.

That TV segment resonated with Nickolay — he had opposed the East
German regime, and he had the necessary technical expertise. “This is
essentially a problem of automation,” he says, “and that’s something
Fraunhofer is very good at.” He sent a letter to the head of BStU
offering his help.

The government was hesitant, but eventually the BStU issued a proof-of-
concept challenge: Anyone who could digitally turn 12 pieces of ripped-
up paper into a legible document or documents would get a grant. About
20 teams responded. Two years later, Nickolay’s group was the only one
to succeed, earning a contract for a two-year, 400-bag pilot project.

On a gray day last fall, I sat in front of two wall-mounted Sharp
Aquos flatscreen TVs hooked up to four networked computers. Next to
me, Jan Schneider, Nickolay’s deputy and the manager of the Stasi
document reconstruction project, booted up the machines. (This was
just a demo: Nickolay refused to show me the actual lab, citing German
privacy law.)

On the right-hand screen, digital images of paper fragments appeared —
technicians had scanned them in using a specially designed, two-camera
digital imaging system. As Schneider pulled down menus and clicked
through a series of descriptive choices, fragments disappeared from
the screen. “Basically, we need to reduce the search space,” he says.
White paper or blue — or pink or green or multicolored? Plain, lined,
or graph? Typewriting, handwriting, or both? Eventually, only a
handful of similar-looking pieces remained. Once matched, the pieces
get transferred to another processor. These popped up as a
reconstructed page on the left-hand screen, rips still visible but
essentially whole. (The reconstructors caught one big break: It turns
out that the order-obsessed Stasi usually stuffed one bag at a time,
meaning document fragments are often found together.)

Just 19 years old when the Berlin Wall fell, Schneider doesn’t share
Nickolay’s moral outrage. For him, this is simply a great engineering
challenge. He turns away from the massive monitors on the wall and
picks up my business card to explain how the team is training the
computers to look at these documents — the same way people do. “You
see a white piece with blue writing on it — computer writing, machine
writing, not handwriting — and here in the upper left is a logo. Tear
it up and you’d immediately know what to look for, what goes

But my card is easy. For one thing, I sprang for heavy stock, and
you’d be hard-pressed to tear it into enough pieces to constitute
“destroyed.” The Stasi files are something else entirely. In 2000, the
BStU collected them and sent them to Magdeburg, a decaying East German
industrial city 90 miles west of Berlin. In hand-numbered brown paper
sacks, neatly stacked on row after row of steel shelves, they fill a
three-story, 60,000-square-foot warehouse on the northern edge of
town. Each sack contains about 40,000 fragments, for a total of 600
million pieces of paper (give or take a hundred million). And each
fragment has two sides. That’s more than a billion images.

The numbers aren’t the worst part. The documents in the bags date from
the 1940s to the 1980s, and they’re made of everything from carbon
paper and newsprint to Polaroids and heavy file folders. That means
the fragments have a wide variety of textures and weights. Hand-
ripping stacks of thick paper creates messy, overlapping margins with
a third dimension along the edges. For a computer looking for 2-D
visual clues, overlaps show up as baffling gaps. “Keep ripping smaller
and smaller and you can get pieces that are all edge,” Schneider says.

The data for the 400-bag pilot project is stored on 22 terabytes worth
of hard drives, but the system is designed to scale. If work on all
16,000 bags is approved, there may be hundreds of scanners and
processors running in parallel by 2010. (Right now they’re analyzing
actual documents, but still mostly vetting and refining the system.)
Then, once assembly is complete, archivists and historians will
probably spend a decade sorting and organizing. “People who took the
time to rip things up that small had a reason,” Nickolay says. “This
isn’t about revenge but about understanding our history.” And not just
Germany’s — Nickolay has been approached by foreign officials from
Poland and Chile with an interest in reconstructing the files damaged
or destroyed by their own repressive regimes.

This kind of understanding isn’t cheap. The German parliament has
given Fraunhofer almost $9 million to scan the first 400 bags. If the
system works, expanding up the operation to finish the job will cost
an estimated $30 million. Most of the initial cost is research and
development, so the full reconstruction would mainly involve more
scanners and personnel to feed the paper in.

Is it worth it? Günter Bormann, the BStU’s senior legal expert, says
there’s an overwhelming public demand for the catharsis people find in
their files. “When we started in 1992, I thought we’d need five years
and then close the office,” Bormann says. Instead, the Records Office
was flooded with half a million requests in the first year alone. Even
in cases where files hadn’t been destroyed, waiting times stretched to
three years. In the past 15 years, 1.7 million people have asked to
see what the Stasi knew about them.

Requests dipped in the late 1990s, but the Oscar-winning 2006 film The
Lives of Others, about a Stasi agent who monitors a dissident
playwright, seems to have prompted a surge of new applications; 2007
marked a five-year high. “Every month, 6,000 to 8,000 people decide to
read their files for the first time,” Bormann says. These days, the
Stasi Records Office spends $175 million a year and employs 2,000

This being Germany, there’s even a special word for it:
Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or “coming to terms with the past.” It’s
not self-evident — you could imagine a country deciding, communally,
to recover from a totalitarian past by simply gathering all the
documents and destroying them. In fact, in 1990 the German press and
citizen committees were wracked by debate over whether to do just
that. Many people, however, suspected that former Stasi agents and ex-
informants were behind the push to forgive and forget.

By preserving and reconstructing the Stasi archives, BStU staffers say
they hope to keep history from repeating itself. In November, the
first children born after the fall of the wall turned 18. Evidence
suggests many of them have serious gaps in their knowledge of the
past. In a survey of Berlin high school students, only half agreed
that the GDR was a dictatorship. Two-thirds didn’t know who built the
Berlin Wall.

The files hold the tantalizing possibility of an explanation for the
strangeness that pervaded preunification Germany. Even back then,
Poppe wondered if the Stasi had information that would explain it all.
“I always used to wish that some Stasi agent would defect and call me
up to say, Here, I brought your file with me,'” Poppe says.

Reading the reports in that first set of 40 binders spurred her to
uncover as much as she could about her monitored past. Since 1995,
Poppe has received 8 pages from the group putting together documents
by hand; the collection of taped-together paper is in a binder on her
Stasi shelf.

The truth is, for Poppe the reconstructed documents haven’t contained
bombshells that are any bigger than the information in the rest of her
file. She chooses a black binder and sets it down on the glass coffee
table in her living room. After lighting a Virginia Slim, she flips to
a page-long list of snitches who spied on her. She was able to match
codenames like Carlos, Heinz, and Rita to friends, coworkers, and even
colleagues in the peace movement. She even tracked down the Stasi
officer who managed her case, and after she set up a sort of ambush
for him at a bar — he thought he was there for a job interview — they
continued to get together. Over the course of half a dozen meetings,
they talked about what she found in her files, why the Stasi was
watching her, what they thought she was doing. For months, it turned
out, an agent was assigned to steal her baby stroller and covertly let
the air out of her bicycle tires when she went grocery shopping with
her two toddlers. “If I had told anyone at the time that the Stasi was
giving me flat tires, they would have laughed at me,” she says. “It
was a way to discredit people, make them seem crazy. I doubted my own
sanity sometimes.” Eventually, the officer broke off contact, but
continued to telephone Poppe — often drunk, often late at night,
sometimes complaining about his failing marriage. He eventually
committed suicide.

Poppe is looking forward to finding out what was in that last,
reconstructed 5 percent. “The files were really important to see,” she
says, taking a drag on her cigarette and leaning forward across the
coffee table. “They explained everything that happened — the letters
we never got, the friends who pulled away from us. We understood where
the Stasi influenced our lives, where they arranged for something to
happen, and where it was simply our fault.”

STASI STILL?,1518,556281,00.html


Functions of the BStU

“The Office of the Federal Commissioner (BStU) preserves the records
of the Ministry for State Security of the GDR in its archives and
makes these available for various purposes to private individuals,
institutions and the public in accordance with strict legal
regulations. In an internationally unique action, in 1989/90, in the
course of the peaceful revolution against the Communist regime in East
Germany, demonstrators occupied the administrative offices of the
former Ministry for State Security of the GDR (MfS) and forced the
dissolution of this apparatus of oppression. The revolutionary will of
the citizens and the freely elected parliament of the GDR smoothed the
way for the securing and controlled opening of the Stasi files. With
German Unity on October 3, 1990, the office was founded. It was
established by Joachim Gauck and is currently directed by Marianne
Birthler. The BStU has the task of instructing the public on the
structure, methods and mode of operation of the MfS. In doing so, it
contributes to the historical, political, judicial and societal
research on the SED dictatorship. It advances the public examination
of totalitarian ideas and structures, in that it makes public
questions on political research.

The heart of the office is the archive with the Stasi legacy. It
records the methods of the regime and the knowledge of the power of
the former SED as the Communist official party of the GDR and of its
secret police: files, index cards, films, audio documents, microfiche.
It is one of the largest archives in Germany with a total of 180 km of
records. The internet site, BStU Online, gives an impression of the
inventories, the work of the archivists and the condition of the

At the end of 1991, the Stasi Records Act (StUG) provided the legal
framework for the various forms of the inspection of files.
Individuals, who were spied on by the Stasi, are given top priority;
they can inspect their files to see how the MfS determined their fate.
In addition to this, the BStU allows the examination of persons in
elevated functions and offices. Scholars and journalists can also
request access to the files for historic research.

A great amount of work is required to be able to provide the Stasi
records to individuals, offices and institutions. The file information
area helps with the inquiry and prepares the files for release. Since
the Stasi impacted the personal rights of people in an enormous way,
the records – in contrast to normal archives – are handled in
accordance with strict privacy policies and only released for certain
purposes and according to the special regulations set out in the Stasi
Record Law. Unfortunately, these complicated procedures lead time and
again to significant waiting times for those filing applications,
since there is still such a large demand.

The Stasi Records Office not only releases files, but also does
research on the history of the MfS itself and publishes files and
research results in its own publications. It provides information on
the most recent findings on the history of dictatorship in events,
exhibitions and on the internet. The work of the BStU contributes to
keeping alive the memory of the SED dictatorship, of its victims, and
also of the opposition and resistance to the system. In this way,
memory and information take the place of forgetting, silence and

The office of the BStU sees itself as a modern service institution
that works transparently and for the people. Its headquarters is in
Berlin and it has 14 outposts with their own archives in the former
capitals of the sectors of the GDR. As a federal regulatory authority,
the BStU is part of the area of operations of the Commissioner for
Culture and Media (BKM).

The German Bundestag (German parliament) selects the Federal
Commissioner at the suggestion of the Federal Government. She is
independent in the exercise of her office and subject only to the law.
The legal supervision is incumbent on the Federal Government; the BKM
is responsible for disciplinary supervision.

Many post-dictatorial societies of the world see the legally regulated
access rights, which are meant to serve both the interests of a
democratic public and the protection of personal rights, as a model
for dealing with the files of a dictatorship. The Stasi Records Office
has long become an international symbol for research on dictators and
the aftereffects of a dictatorship.”

Shredded East German secret police files being reassembled by
computer  /   May 9, 2007

BERLIN (AP) – German researchers said Wednesday that they were
launching an attempt to reassemble millions of shredded East German
secret police files using complicated computerized algorithms. The
files were shredded as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and it became
clear that the East German regime was finished. Panicking officials of
the Stasi secret police attempted to destroy the vast volumes of
material they had kept on everyone from their own citizens to foreign

So great was the task that it overwhelmed the shredding machines, and
a large number of the documents were torn by hand into between eight
and thirty pieces. Some 16,250 sacks containing pieces of 45 million
shredded documents were found and confiscated after the reunification
of Germany in 1990. Reconstruction work began 12 years ago but 24
people have been able to reassemble the contents of only 323 sacks.
“Many important documents are slumbering in these sacks,” Marianne
Birthler, head of the Stasi archives, told Deutschlandfunk radio.

Berlin’s Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design
Technology estimates that putting everything back together by hand
would take 30 people 600 to 800 years. Researchers are hopeful they
will be able to put together 400 sacks in two years using new computer
technology employed by the Frauenhofer Institute. If the government-
funded $8.53 million pilot project is successful, head researcher
Bertram Nickolay said, researchers will be able to put together all of
the bags in four to five years.

Using algorithms developed 15 years ago to help decipher barely
legible lists of Nazi concentration camp victims, each individual
strip of the shredded Stasi files will be scanned on both sides. The
data then will be fed into the computer for interpretation using color
recognition; texture analysis; shape and pattern recognition; machine
and handwriting analysis and the recognition of forged official
stamps, Nickolay said in a statement.

Hand-torn documents are expected to be the easiest to reassemble,
because the pieces can be matched together by shape, like a
complicated puzzle. Putting the machine-shredded documents together
requires analysis of the script on the surface of the fragments. The
institute has already had success putting together similarly destroyed
documents for Germany’s tax authorities.


Bertram Nickolay
email : nickolay [at] ipk.fhg [dot] de / bertram.nickolay [at] ipk.fraunhofer [dot] de

DATA RECOVERY,1518,482136,00.html
New Computer Program to Reassemble Shredded Stasi Files  /  05/10/2007

Millions of files consigned to paper shredders in the late days of the
East German regime will be pieced together by computer. The massive
job of reassembling this puzzle from the late Cold War was performed,
until now, by hand. It’s been years in the making, but finally
software designed to electronically piece together some 45 million
shredded documents from the East German secret police went into
service in Berlin on Wednesday. Now, a puzzle that would take 30
diligent Germans 600 to 800 years to finish by hand, according to one
estimate, might be solved by computer in seven. “It’s very exciting to
decode Stasi papers,” said Jan Schneider, head engineer on the project
at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design
Technology located in the German capital. “You have the feeling you
are making history.” Or at least putting it back together again. In
1989, with the looming collapse of the Communist regime becoming
increasingly evident, agents of the East German
Staatssicherheitsdienst or Stasi feverishly plowed millions of active
files through paper shredders, or just tore them up by hand.

Rights activists interrupted the project and rescued a total of 16,250
garbage bags full of scraps. But rescuing the history on those sheets
of paper amounted to an absurdly difficult jigsaw puzzle. By 2000, no
more than 323 sacks were legible again — reconstructed by a team of
15 people working in Nuremburg — leaving 15,927 to go. So the German
government promised money to any group that could plausibly deal with
the remaining tons of paper. The Fraunhofer Institute won the contract
in 2003, and began a pilot phase of the project on Wednesday. Four
hundred sacks of scraps will be scanned, front and back, and newly-
refined software will try to arrange the digitized fragments according
to shape, texture, ink color, handwriting style and recognizable
official stamps.

Günter Bormann, from the agency that oversees old Stasi documents (the
Federal Commission for the Records of the national Security Service of
the Former German Democratic Republic), says most of the paper
probably dates from the years 1988 and 1989. “This is what Stasi
officers had on their desks at the end,” he says. “It’s not material
from dusty archives.” Still-unknown Stasi informants — ordinary East
Germans who spied on other East Germans — stand to be uncovered.
International espionage files are reportedly not among the thousands
of sacks; most of those having been more conclusively destroyed.

The Fraunhofer Institute’s computers will start with documents torn by
hand, because large irregular fragments lend themselves to shape
recognition more readily than uniform strips from shredding machines.
The institute received a promise of €6.3 million ($8.53 million) in
April from the German parliament for this phase, which is expected to
take about two years. If it’s deemed successful, the rest of the job
would take four to five years, according to project chief Bertram
Nickolay. The final cost will be up to €30 million.




Kristie Macrakis
email : macrakis [at] msu [dot] edu

Interview with Anna Funder – Adventures in Stasiland
Sarah Coleman  /  June 16, 2003

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 them.

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.

Q: 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?

A: 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

Q: 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?

A: 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.

Q: 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?

A: 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.

Q: What do you think accounts for the fact that so many ex-Stasi men
were willing to come forward and tell their stories?

A: 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.

Q: 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

A: 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

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.

Q: 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?

A: 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

Q: 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?

A: 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.

Q: 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?

A: 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.

Q: 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?

A: 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.

Q: 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

A: 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.

Q: 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?

A: 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

Q: Are there any plans to publish Stasiland in Germany?

A: 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.

“After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many astounding revelations came
to light about the Stasi, the East German secret police. One of the
more bizarre activities the Stasi was found to have engaged in was the
collection of Geruchsproben – smell samples – for the benefit of the
East German smell hounds. The odors, collected during interrogations
using a perforated metal “smell sample chair” or by breaking into
people’s homes and stealing their dirty underwear, were stored in
small glass jars. Many of the remaining East German smell jars are on
display at the Stasi Museum in Berlin.”


Germany adopts Stasi scent tactic  /  23 May 2007

The German authorities are compiling a database of human scents to
track down possible violent protesters at the G8 summit in June. The
method, once used by East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, involves
collecting scent samples in advance from selected targets. The scents
are then passed to police equipped with sniffer dogs who can pick the
individuals out amid a crowd. Past G8 summits have suffered serious
unrest, which Germany is keen to avoid.

The Interior Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, has defended the
authorities’ decision to use scent tracking, saying it is a useful
tool to identify suspects. A spokesman for the federal prosecutor has
confirmed that samples of smell were gathered from five people who
were detained during recent police raids. It is understood the
suspects were made to hold metal pipes in their hands and the samples
of smell were kept by police.

Investigators using sniffer dogs were able to compare the scent
samples with traces left at the scene of more than a dozen arson
attacks which are believed to be linked to anti-globalisation
activists. The deputy speaker of parliament, Wolfgang Thierse, warned
the authorities not to use techniques which could lead to a police
state like the former Communist regime. And Petra Pau, a politician
from the opposition Left Party, described the move “as another step
away from a democratic state of law toward a preventive security

“A state that adopts the methods of the East German Stasi, robs itself
of every… legitimacy,” she said in a statement.

Keeping tabs

The Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, which acted as
East Germany’s secret police and intelligence agency throughout the
Cold War, used odour recognition to keep tabs on potential dissidents.
They often collected the samples surreptitiously – breaking into homes
to steal suspects’ underwear, or by wiping down chairs used during
interrogations. The samples were then stored in glass jars, each
carefully labelled with details of whom the sample came from. Some of
the jars are now on display at the Stasi museum in Berlin.

As the current holders of the G8 presidency, Germany is playing host
to the summit, which is being held in the Baltic Sea resort of
Heiligendamm. Past summits have been targeted by thousands of anti-
globalisation activists and protests have often turned violent.


Weber, Carl  /  A Picaresque Tale: East Germany’s Last Act
PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art – PAJ 65 (Volume 22, Number 2),
May 2000, pp. 142-145

“The Berlin Wall was opened up in the late evening of November 9,
1989. This was an event that was totally unexpected, from Washington
to Berlin to Moscow and places beyond. It happened, according to the
press and later official statements, due to a press conference during
which a prominent member of East Germany’s ruling Socialist Unity
Party’s leadership, Gnther Schabowski, made a remark indicating that
citizens of the East German Republic would henceforth be allowed to
travel freely to the West. Within the hour, thousands appeared at the
checkpoints where West Berlin could be entered. The border guards,
without instructions from their superiors, felt compelled to open the
gates, and West Berlin experienced a deluge of citizens from the
eastern part of the city. The events of that chaotic night have still
not been completely sorted out. What is certain is that this event
heralded the end of the Communist system in Central and Eastern
Europe, including the former Soviet Union. There were rumors at the
time, and they still are believed by many, that the opening of the
Wall had been planned and instrumentalized by the infamous “Stasi,”
the secret police of the former GDR. The Stasi (acronym for
Staatssicherheit, i.e., State Security) combined…”

Big Brother Is Still Haunting Society in Germany’s East
BY Roger Cohen  /  November 29, 1999

Rüdiger Hinze took a scrap of paper from his eyeglass case and read
four names: Jäger, Kopp, Schulze and Schreiber. “Those are the code
names,” he said, “of the people in this village who spied on me for
years.” A retired teacher, Hinze keeps the list of false identities
with his glasses to be regularly reminded of the people who spent
years recording each person he met, each card game he played, each
word he uttered — and then passing on the information to the East
German state security service, known as the Stasi.

This village of 1,200 was close enough to what was then the border
with West Germany to be of particular interest to the Communist secret
police. A teacher like Hinze who was disinclined to sing the praises
of Bolshevism was a reasonable target for inclusion in the 125 miles
of files that are the legacy of perhaps the most spied-on society in
history. Like many people in Germany, and in other post-Communist
states in Central and Eastern Europe, Hinze, 54, has recently read his
Stasi file. The 100 pages have left him stunned, perplexed. Who
informed on him? Why such detail? How could he live in such a society?
These are questions that haunt millions of Europeans even a decade
after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Indeed, in Germany the tide of
questioning is rising.

When Hitler’s Reich collapsed in 1945, Germans spent 20 years avoiding
a full confrontation with Nazism. German valor at Stalingrad
outweighed German murder at Treblinka. Only under the insistent
pressure of the postwar generation in West Germany — the 1960’s
revolutionaries who are the rulers of today — was history stared in
the face. Erich Honecker, long the leader of East Germany, was not
Hitler. But his police state of 17 million people boasted 95,000 full-
time Stasi agents, more than double the number of Gestapo agents in
Nazi Germany, which had four times the population. As in the postwar
period, a delayed reaction to the trauma of dictatorship is becoming
clear. “Applications to see Stasi files are rising sharply and now run
at 15,000 a month from individuals,” said Johannes Legner, a senior
official at the government commission that oversees the six million
files. “It’s the same story as in 1945: partial amnesia is followed by
awakening. I believe the real wave of interest and generational
conflict are still to come.”

Legner was born in 1954. He recalls asking his parents: what about
Auschwitz? He is convinced that similar questions will come from the
generation born in the decade since Communism collapsed: Were you a
secret informer for the Stasi? How could you live and look at that
wall? How did it feel to be part of a police state? Of course, the
very existence of the commission for which Legner works and the access
to their Stasi files granted German citizens shows the lengths to
which Germany is going to be more open about its history than it was
in 1945. Elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, countries have
wrestled in different ways with the issues of justice and
reconciliation, but in general few former Communists have served
prison sentences, and the vetting process to keep government positions
free of diehard Marxists is slowly winding down.

The Federal Republic is immeasurably more democratic in its soul and
in its convictions than the shell-shocked “Volk” that emerged from the
rubble of Hitler’s war or any incarnation of Germany since the modern
state was formed in 1871. But the trauma of the Stasi still inhabits
Germany, adding another layer of suspicion and interrogation to a
society that has already spent more than half a century trying to
comprehend the incomprehensible. A few trials and convictions —
including the recent one of Egon Krenz, the last East German leader
and longtime head of state security — have done little to heal wounds
that lie deep or to satisfy Germans that any form of justice is
possible for intrusions into their lives that are still not fully
understood. At the most immediate level, the confrontation with what
the East German state security apparatus did is simply not over yet.
More than 300,000 people are waiting to see their files, and the wait
is generally at least two years from the time an application is filed.
In addition, a vetting process continues. About 1.6 million people in
public service, including teachers and police officers, have already
been screened, and about 20,000 remain to be processed by the so-
called Gauck Commission, named after the Rev. Joachim Gauck, a former
East German dissident who heads the panel overseeing Stasi files.

The vetting does not always lead to dismissal: in the eastern German
state of Saxony-Anhalt, for example, only a third of the teachers
known to have had contact with the Stasi have been dismissed.
Discretion is widely used by the Gauck Commission in the hope that
people who may have spied under extreme pressure will be able to start
anew. Demands from public entities and private companies for such
clearance is declining. But with personal applications to see files
going up from 10,000 to 15,000 a month, there is no prospect of the
commission, with its 2,800 employees, being disbanded. At a deeper
level, the impact of the Stasi is becoming clear. East Germany was a
sophisticated repressive society. After the violence of the Stalinist
period, the state — like others in Central Europe and the Balkans —
did not employ murder on a wide scale. Rather, its aim was what the
Stasi called the “decomposition” of people. Decomposition meant
blocking people from acting. It meant paralyzing them as citizens by
convincing them that everything was controlled. It meant the
relentless application of a quiet coercion leading to compliance. “For
the East German state, it was better to have no activity than an
activity out of the Stasi’s control,” said Legner, who lived in West
Berlin during most of the cold war years. “So no wonder many Germans
in the east are unable to act on their own free will today.”

Certainly among older eastern Germans, this fear of personal
initiative and sense of dependence on a state long seen as omnipotent
have contributed to the unemployment rate of close to 20 percent in
what was East Germany. The risk inherent in capitalism is simply
alien. Worse, it is threatening. “We were all children of the East
German state,” said Klaus Müller, a former officer in Honecker’s army.
“We believed what we were told and we did what we were told, in the
defense of socialism.” Müller, 47, has managed to recycle himself in a
united Germany as a member of the border police at the Polish
frontier. “When I took off my uniform, I also stepped out of my
ideology,” he said. “Socialism was gone, we were told it was false and
so I started to think again.” But such chameleonic changes of identity
— and there are millions of them in Germany, as across Central and
Eastern Europe — and the realization that there were as many as
160,000 unofficial informers for the Stasi have contributed to the
sort of unease felt by Hinze, the teacher. Put simply, the former
Communist world is still a place where the true identity of even an
old acquaintance may be difficult to fathom. Swelling from cancer has
twisted Hinze’s mouth into a grimace. As a result, his voice is
indistinct. But the fierce intelligence in his deep blue eyes is clear
enough, as is his conviction that the East German state broke him.

After the Berlin Wall fell, he waited several years to file an
application to see his Stasi file. Then it took four years for his
application to be approved. Finally, earlier this year, he read the
file. Much of it was devoted to his standing in the village — his
popularity (high), his friends (numerous), his reputation at the
school (good). It was noted against him that he preferred to teach the
lower school classes, where instruction in the glories of Communism
and the feats of the October Revolution was not prominent. The file
recorded that Hinze was approached by the Stasi in 1974, when he was
29, and offered the opportunity to become an agent. When he declined,
he had to formulate in writing why he would not do such work. “I wrote
that I could not do it because I would not be able to look my family,
my friends and my colleagues in the eye,” Hinze recalled. “I also had
to formally agree to tell nobody that I had been approached, or face
the threat of what they called ‘state measures.’ ” The experience was
psychologically devastating. The meaning of “state measures” was well
known: imprisonment and likely torture. The message of the Stasi was
clear enough: if you do not work with us, you are against us. It
proved hugely effective in a society fashioned after the war to go on
prizing obedience. “One thing that amazed me was the resources devoted
to my trivial case,” said Hinze. “It became clear to me reading that
file that East Germany went bankrupt in part because all the hard
currency, all the top talent, was devoted to the Stasi.” The former
teacher, who has received an early pension because of his illness, has
now written to the Gauck Commission to see if he can discover the real
identities behind those code names: Jäger, Kopp, Schulze and
Schreiber. He says he is driven by interest rather than any desire for
revenge. “I am reconciled,” he said. “I would not confront them.”

The true names may or may not be known to the Gauck Commission,
because some Stasi files were destroyed and many of the most sensitive
archives were spirited away and later acquired, probably in Russia, by
the Central Intelligence Agency. The long reluctance of the C.I.A. to
return those files has been a source of friction between the United
State and Germany, although an accord on giving back most of them has
now been reached. “For us this is a matter of basic civil rights,”
said Legner. “This information was collected by Germans and belongs
here. There are plenty of people whose lives have been destroyed and
all we have is a code name for the person who did it. And the C.I.A.
is sitting on that code, so we cannot identify who destroyed someone’s
life.” With the expected return of many files next year, it seems
likely that hundreds or even thousands of former Stasi agents still in
prominent positions may be exposed. But the files will not bring back
the dead, patch up damaged lives like Hinze’s or stanch the rising
interest in who worked for the Stasi and why. “The best you can hope
for is a dialogue where the perpetrators confess and so you have the
confession as a consolation,” Legner said. “But I must say that when a
man I now know spied on me in East Berlin calls and wants to talk,
perhaps to excuse himself, I put the phone down. Refusing to speak to
him is my own little punishment.”

Leave a Reply