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Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

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In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterwards the two Germanies reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. In a country where the headquarters of the secret police can become a museum literally overnight, and one in 50 East Germans were informing on their countrymen and women, there are a thousand stories just waiting to get out. Anna Funder tells extraordinary tales from the underbelly of the former East Germany - she meets Miriam, who as a 16-year-old might have started World War III, visits the man who painted the line which became the Berlin Wall and gets drunk with the legendary 'Mik Jegger' of the East, once declared by the authorities to his face to 'no longer to exist'. Written with wit and literary flair, Stasiland provides a rivetting insight into life behind the wall.

328 pages, Paperback

First published June 5, 2003

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About the author

Anna Funder

14 books408 followers
Anna Funder was born in Melbourne in 1966. She has worked as an international lawyer and a radio and television producer. Her book Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, won the 2004 Samuel Johnson Prize. She lives in Sydney with her husband and family.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,565 reviews
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,380 reviews2,255 followers
April 24, 2020
It wasn't until about a third of the way though reading Anna Funder's riveting piece of factual writing, that the true horror and brutal reality of East German repression finally sunk in. Of the population (around seventeen million people) as many as one in every 6.5 was either a Stasi officer or informant. As for everyone else, they were pretty much screwed. Even without doing a lot wrong, confessions were forced out of the innocent simply because it made more sense to admit guilt than face day after day after day without any sleep. The methods of gaining information out of those who were accused of going against the GDR was truly shocking. They broke you down, into a weak emotional wreck, exhausted in mind as well as body. Shattered. With no way out.

Here, Funder gets to meet not only the ordinary men and woman who some how got through life in the secret State, but also actual Stasi employees, some of whom didn't come across as the monsters they once were. All along, even going back to the days of the Nazis, grotesque history has a habit of lurking beneath the shiny surface, influencing both the present and the future, Funder, an Australian, experienced this while living in post-reunification Berlin some time in the mid 1990s. After visiting the former Leipzig headquarters of the East German security services, she becomes drawn to the personal histories of East Germans. And what a history. Vastly unknown to most, this makes for a fascinating read, in places it even reads like a thrilling novel. Those Funder gets close to, you really take on board, believe and care for every word uttered. The reader becomes Funder, you are there in the room. eagerly awaiting, the truth be told.

The whole experience was a lyrical mixture of the sad, the shocking, the unbelievable, but also strangely, the funny and bizarre. The amount of sophisticated spying that when on was just staggering. It wouldn't have surprised me if there were more secret microphones than there were people in the GDR. Funder places an add in a paper looking for those willing to speak with her, and it's not long before the phone starts ringing off the hook. One encounter leads to another. There is Miriam, who tried to climb over the wall aged 16 and got caught, later her husband died in a cell. Young Julia had an Italian boyfriend who caught the eye of the secret police, observing her every move, and blocking her career. And one of the most heart felt accounts was of Frau Paul, a woman who's baby lies in a West Berlin hospital, now out of reach because of the blasted wall going up.

Once she starts talking to ex-Stasi later in the book, and learning of just what it was like day to day, the intrigue is upped to another level. Including a visit to the elderly Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, who once hosted a notorious television programme slamming those living free in the west. The GDR was a furtive and insidious tyranny, and 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 Erich Honecker (General Secretary of of the Socialist Unity Party. It was however, a brave man or woman who drew attention to the brutality of East German prisons. Your brother, neighbour, or friend, could quite easily have been on the Stasi payroll.

Another thing that struck me was just how grey everything appeared. Grey buildings, grey vehicles, grey weather, grey people (I don't mean hair). Thankfully, Funder's writing never lacks colour, it's full of vibrancy, and the book flows supremely well from one moment to the next. While the life-stories do bring a range of emotions to the reader, one thing I felt missing, was more of her own view points, to give a broader scope. But Nevertheless, I was captivated from start to finish.
She writes remarkably well.
Profile Image for Maciek.
562 reviews3,320 followers
November 26, 2020
The East German Stasi was the world's best and most efficient secret police, the textbook definition of the omnipresent Big Brother. The Stasi guarded and secured the rule of East Germany's Communist Party for four decades, during which it seeped into every tiny crevice of East German society. East Germans could not escape the Stasi - in every seven people, one informed for it; all spaces where life took place have been infiltrated and monitored by the Stasi, which kept meticulous records on its subjects.

Although the Stasi was based on the Soviet secret police and closely collaborated with the KGB, its methods were infinitely more diabolical. Rather than resort to brute force familiar to the KGB, the Stasi developed a series of methods which it called Zersetzung - a German word which is difficult to translate as it is said to contain no direct English equivalent - the closest being "dissolution". The Stasi did not need to arrest and beat their subjects to a pulp; rather, the agency aimed to utterly break and annihilate a person's will and character by employing a series of elaborate strategies aimed against them. The Stasi would observe and collect information about its targets, and then deliberately make their daily life a living nightmare: spread rumors in the workplace to undermine their credibility and develop mistrust; destroy their personal relationships, prevent them from reaching their potential and ruin them financially. Stasi agents would manipulate objects and leave traces of their presence inside an individual's home to terrorize them and make them doubt their sanity, deliberately creating disappointments and escalating fears in an individual's life. The targets were under constant surveillance, and Stasi agents had access to their most personal information: they knew intimate details and secrets, which allowed them to refine their methods to target what they perceived to be their specific weaknesses, and break them - leave their targets irreversibly damaged with depressive, psychotic behavior, eliminating their capability to act in dissent and be a threat to state security.

Anna Funder is an Australian author who traveled to live in Berlin in 1996, just six years after German Reunification and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although both the country and the city were officially united, Germany is still very much a divided nation - with clear differences between the Wessis and Ossis, the West and East Germans. Funder interviews various East Germans who still live in the eponymous Stasiland - the east part of Berlin and various East German cities. This is not a scholarly survey of life in East Germany, but a collection of personal accounts as written down by the author. Throughout the book, Funder seems severely depressed - noting the seemingly always grey and cold weather, and drinking a lot of alcohol - but I don't blame her; the people who talk to her have horrifying stories to tell; those who were persecuted by the Stasi at various points in their lives and can't forget the abuse that they suffered in the DDR, and those who used to work for the Stasi out of personal conviction and refuse to acknowledge that the DDR no longer exist.

Unlike Denazification in post World-War 2 Germany, there was no similar process regarding the Stasi in the former DDR. One of the rules of reunification stated that to be prosecuted, Stasi officers had to be found to have violated the law of the DDR - which gave most of them impunity, as they were acting with this very law. Essentially, to prosecute the Stasi unified Germany would have to declare the entire law of the DDR illegal and the DDR itself to be an illegal state, like the Third Reich - which would have greatly slowed down the reunification process. This means that Stasi agents and collaborators continue to live in Germany - and although most have started new lives, most also does not think of their actions as wrong: they either offer the old Nuremberg defense of following orders, or continue to believe that the DDR was the "proper" Germany, and show no remorse in defending it. Can we truly blame them? People who have been raised to believe with their entire selves in an ideology which surrounded them from all sides can't possibly stop believing it overnight, and unite with what they for decades were taught to believe was a decadent society, scheming to destroy theirs at all times. The deep mistrust is not going to disappear with the wall or the border; in many cases it will never disappear, and will die only with the last man who worked for the Stasi.

Watch Germany - Stasiland , a short documentary by Journeyman Pictures featuring Anna Funder and a Frau Paul, whose story is probably the most tragic in the book - a mother whose sick newborn was smuggled into a West Berlin hospital, and who was unable to see him for years because she refused to inform for the Stasi; it also features two former Stasi agents, one of whom says eerily: "The border isn't there anymore, but the ideological and material boundary is. It's growing each year".

The stories that Funder collected provide a harrowing insight of life in a totalitarian state and into a divided country; the Stasi and the DDR might no longer officially exist, but East Germans and their experiences on both sides of the keyhole still do and will not disappear anytime soon.

Profile Image for Matt.
752 reviews522 followers
Shelved as 'to-be-considered'
November 10, 2019
“Walls work.”

That’s the opinion of Monica Crowley (appointed the position of senior director of strategic communications for the National Security Council in the Trump administration)

Well, Ms Crowley, how shall I break it to you gently? The Berlin Wall doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe you’d like to refer to a history book (in case you have one available). Look for “Germany, United” in the register. The place you’re standing at is a tourist attraction to remind people that walls don’t work in the long run. It seems like the wall is only in your head.

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Profile Image for Woman Reading .
431 reviews270 followers
August 8, 2020
4 Stars - Lies, Paranoia and Oppression

Everyone suspected everyone else, and the mistrust this bred was the foundation of social existence.
The German Democratic Republic (GDR) emerged in 1949 from the eastern section of Germany that had been occupied by the Soviet Union forces during World War II. The name was the first lie, for the GDR was no democracy. Multiple political parties existed on paper, but in reality the Social Unity Party (SED) ruled in tandem with the State Security Service (Stasi). The SED espoused Marxist-Leninist doctrines and the GDR was effectively a satellite state of the Soviet Union. As an odd quirk of geopolitics, the city of Berlin retained its political divisions from its WWII occupiers. East Berlin, originally occupied by the USSR, became the capital of GDR while its former other half, West Berlin, was an island symbolic of the capitalist West floating in the GDR sea.

Created in 1950, the Stasi, the secret police, reached into every part of German society and through psychological and physical means ensured that those in power remained in power.
"Just remember Comrades this one thing: the most important thing you have is power! Hang on to power at all costs! Without it, you are nothing!" Erich Mielke October 1989

After gaining experience with Joseph Stalin’s secret police in Russia, Erich Mielke returned to Germany. Once the head of the Stasi in 1957, Mielke eventually developed the Stasi into the most effective intelligence agency during the entire Cold War. Its foreign division not only sent spies abroad but actively disseminated “disinformation and psychological warfare against the west.” Within the GDR, the Stasi had cultivated a network of 173,000 informal informants to supplement its 97,000 official employees (Wikipedia listed 91,000 official employees and 174,000 informants in 1989). Once its part-time informal informants were tallied, the Stasi had one person to cover about every 7 GDR residents in 1989.
The clearer you see, the worse you feel.
According to GDR leadership, the GDR was a socialist, peace-loving nation without problems like unemployment and prostitution. But the little island of Kapitalismus had proven too tempting. Within 10 years of 1950, 1.2 million of the original 18.4 million GDR residents fled to West Berlin or further afield. That’s why the Wall was erected seemingly overnight in August 1961 and without advance warning to Berliners.
There are no whole people. Everyone has issues of their own to deal with… the main thing is how one deals with them.

Funder is an Australian who collected stories in 1996 from GDR citizens and Stasi members for Stasiland. Funder didn’t try to present a comprehensive view of life in the GDR while the Wall existed and at times, Stasiland felt like personal journal entries. Two women’s stories which are central in Stasiland came about because the Stasi Museum staff urged Funder to interview them. Miriam Weber had become an Enemy of the State at age 16 for printing dissident posters. She was also accused of nearly starting WWIII with her failed attempt to cross the Wall into West Berlin. Miriam’s sentence entailed 1.5 years in jail in which criminal prisoners were encouraged to abuse the political prisoners. Once released, she was effectively barred from gainful employment in the land of no unemployment. She married Charlie Weber, a former sports teacher turned dissident, who faced the ultimate punishment. Not even 30 years old, Charlie died under questionable circumstances while incarcerated by the Stasi.

Whereas Miriam’s initial actions had been deliberate, Frau Paul’s family’s difficulties began with poor timing. Their first baby required medical care that only the hospital in West Berlin was qualified to provide. He had been born shortly before the Wall was erected and eventually his parents were no longer granted permission to visit him in the West Berlin hospital. They tried sneaking into West Berlin but stopped after failing their first attempt as the Stasi intensified their efforts to enforce the Wall. Eventually they were accused with orchestrating escape attempts, and the Stasi imprisoned them in Hohenschonhausen, which contained a multitude of rooms tailored by torture methods. Despite being “bought free” for 40,000 Deustche Marks in 1963, Frau Paul and her husband were dumped by the Stasi in East Berlin without their official papers. Between 1963 and 1989, 34,000 GDR citizens had been “bought free” (i.e. allowed legal immigration to work in exchange for hard currency) by West Germany. Frau Paul and her husband, however, were among the 9 documented cases in which GDR had reneged on the deal.

Funder had to rely on a more scattershot approach to find former Stasi employees to interview. She placed an advertisement and eventually spoke with employees whose personal beliefs ran the gamut from blasé acceptance to fanatical level of devotion to Mielke. Funder did not hide her distaste in the Stasi’s work while she was curious to hear if they would feel remorseful for their actions during their career.

Overall, I found this to be really interesting. Stasiland could have been a better book though primarily because it read like Funder’s journal entries. Funder didn’t have a main point to make with her book, so there was no grand summary in the final chapter. Although I’m glad that I could read of these personal stories, I was also more curious about how people psychologically managed to live in this kind of environment. Funder did touch upon this briefly with the concept of “internal emigration,” in which many GDR residents closely sheltered their inner lives while presenting outward manifestations of belief in the authorities' system.

German Democratic Republic population (Wikipedia)

1950 18.39 million
1960 17.19 million, decreased by 1.2 million (or 6.5%) from 1950
1970 17.07 million, decreased by 120,000 (or 0.6%) from 1960 (after the Wall was erected)
1980 16.74 million, decreased by 330,000 (or 1.9%) from 1970
1990 16.03 million, decreased by 710,000 (or 4.2%) from 1980 (after the Wall fell)
Profile Image for sAmAnE.
498 reviews84 followers
November 11, 2022
کتابی بسیار هیجان‌انگیز و عالی در مورد زندگی در آلمان شرقی بعد از فروپاشی دیوار برلین هست، همون‌طور که از اسمش مشخصه ابعاد متفاوتی از جنگ رو به خواننده نشون میده. در مورد اشتازی، ارتش داخلی که سعی داره در مورد زندگی شخصی افراد حتی به وسیله‌ی نزدیک‌ترین اشخاص زندگیشون اطلاعات جمع‌آوری کنه..
نامزد جایزه گاردین سال 2003
برنده جایزه بهترین اثر غیرداستانی ساموئل جانسون سال 2004
Profile Image for Psychonaut.
120 reviews3 followers
March 9, 2011
I came across this book because David Byrne recommended it in Bicycle Diaries. It's an incredible book. I literally had to check to make sure the label said non-fiction, because some of it is so unbelievable. It tells the story of the Eastern side of Berlin when the wall was up, and the way people's lives were controlled, manipulated, and destroyed. I thought I had some idea of what went on, but I really didn't understand the extent of it until I read this book. I didn't expect this book to be so well written. I would have been satisfied if it were dry and factual. But the writing is almost poetic at times. She interviews victims as well as those who were in authority at the time. The author is sensitive, contemplative, and incredibly observant. She is attuned to the tiny ways people reveal their thoughts and emotions in the flicker of an expression, the direction of a gaze, or an unconscious body movement. She has a gift for describing sights, sounds, and oddly enough, especially smells. In some ways it is a memoir of the time during which she was researching the book and learning for herself what went on behind the wall. She unfolds her process and the ways she was emotionally and psychologically affected by what she discovers while trying to make some sense of the horror for herself and the reader.
Profile Image for Roberto.
627 reviews1 follower
March 23, 2017

Il rosso e il nero

La Stasi, il "Ministero per la Sicurezza di Stato", era l'organizzazione di sicurezza e spionaggio della Germania dell'Est (DDR). Non aveva uguali per la puntigliosa meticolosità con cui controllava i cittadini. Leggeva la posta, registrava le telefonate, ascoltava le conversazioni con appositi microfoni, obbligava a riferire sui comportamenti di tutti, verificava parentele, prendeva nota dei risultati scolastici dei figli e del rendimento sul lavoro, misurava l'orientamento delle antenne televisive, pedinava, archiviava (tutto!), osservava, torturava psicologicamente. Agiva con metodo. Poteva, per scopi di vario tipo, isolare e rovinare una persona ricorrendo a menzogne di ogni tipo. Un adulterio, un volantinaggio o un'infrazione bastavano a scatenare qualcuno dei suoi numerosissimi agenti.

Il libro non è un saggio e non è un romanzo. E' il racconto fatto in prima persona della scrittrice (australiana residente in Germania) che si propone di capire come fosse la vita nella Germania dell'Est (in rapporto con quella dell'Ovest) e le ragioni che stavano dietro la condizione di iper-controllo messo in piedi dal governo. La Funder raccoglie le esperienze di persone vissute poco prima degli anni 90 nella repubblica democratica e di molti ex-ispettori della Stasi.

Comincio subito con il dire che ho trovato il libro interessante e avvincente. Non l'ho mai trovato noioso o prolisso, nonostante i molti dati riportati, e mai ridondante, nonostante le svariate persone intervistate.

I fatti narrati sono terribili e consentono di farsi un'idea sulle condizioni di vita nel paese prima della caduta del muro. Certo la posizione della scrittrice è un po' di parte, ma quale libro di questo tipo circolante in occidente non lo è?

La popolazione della DDR, passata da un giorno con l'altro dal nazismo allo stalinismo, era ovviamente troppo soggetta, per i sovietici, all'influenza del mondo occidentale. Il controllo che la Stasi costruì doveva limitare al massimo tale influenza; limitazione che arrivò all'estremo con la costruzione del Muro a Berlino nel 1961, come "misura protettiva antifascista".

Il risultato fu uno stato di polizia in cui le persone non erano libere di fare nulla, in cui nuclei familiari erano spaccati tra est e ovest, in cui carriere, movimenti e rispettabilità erano soggetti a regole non scritte. E' abbastanza normale pensare che tutta questa gente non vedesse l'ora di liberarsi dal giogo e che vedesse l'occidente come un paradiso. E' quello che in effetti ogni libro e ogni film ci ha sempre fatto credere. In realtà non fu proprio così.

Se da una parte i terribili esempi esposti mostrano che la gente non ne potesse più delle restrizioni, della carenza degli alimenti di base e della mancanza di giustizia della Stasi, dall'altra risulta che la caduta del Muro e della DDR dell''89 non abbia reso tutti felici. Era difficile accettare di avere creduto a un sistema "sbagliato". La presa di distanza dal nazismo, manovrata dall'URSS, aveva creato una sorta di distacco dalle responsabilità dello stesso nazismo, come se gli abitanti della stessa DDR non avessero fatto parte della Germania nel 1945. Nel comunismo molta gente aveva creduto e faticò ad accettarne il fallimento, dichiarando che si stava meglio prima quando c'era poco per tutti ed esisteva uno stato sociale.

"L'idillio viene dal sogno di un mondo migliore che i comunisti tedeschi avrebbero voluto costruire sulle ceneri del loro passato nazista: da ognuno secondo le sue possibilità, a ognuno secondo i suoi bisogni. L'orrore viene da quello che hanno fatto in nome di quel sogno. La Germania Est è sparita, ma i suoi resti sono ancora sul posto"

Rimpianti degli abitanti, quindi. Rimpianti che ho udito spesso anche durante vari viaggi in Russia. Ma rimpianti anche dagli ex-agenti della Stasi, che intervistati mostrano di credere ancora nel lavoro fatto, di credere che le attività di polizia fossero indispensabili per il mantenimento dello stato.

Mentre leggevo il libro ho googolato spesso. E ho scoperto, con somma sorpresa, di avere inconsapevolmente lavorato con molti ex-ufficiali della Stasi, ora responsabili di grandi società russo-tedesche. Evidentemente la polizia segreta con le sue derive non è stata considerata così negativa nemmeno dalla Germania Ovest...

Non è un libro perfetto; non è sempre imparziale, la scrittrice dimostra spesso di essere troppo coinvolta e il suo parere personale a volte eccessivo. Ma riesce a definire abbastanza bene il quadro storico, a restituire bene le sensazioni dell'epoca e.... a fare tutto questo in modo lineare, scorrevole e mantenendo sempre alto l'interesse del lettore. Mica poco!
92 reviews7 followers
January 27, 2015
I had really high hopes and expectations with regard to this book. I thought it would be an insider's look into the seedy, corrupt, disgusting practices of the East German secret police. Instead, it's a tired and thinly-worn collection of super-boring and petty tall-tales from random people that haven't been fact-checked or verified in any way.

The author's style of writing is particularly grating. As I already alluded to, she breathlessly reports these stories from random people who she meets through newspaper advertisements, and writes every word they utter as if it is unvarnished truth. She doesn't bother looking into the tales she is told (or supposedly told; some of them I doubt were even said in the way she claims because they are so ridiculous), and it all seems like a huge waste of time. Totally not a historical book in any real sense of the word; it reads like fiction.

The writer obviously has a point of view and her own conceptions about East Germany, and more than half the book isn't even actual interviews, it is instead the author's tired clichés about German people, or communists, or totalitarians... The people she presents are caricatures of humans, fake and unbelievable. It's as if she is a washed up novelist who failed to get sales, so she turned to something else, but continued to cling to her hackneyed characters and terrible metaphors.

A huge portion of the book is dedicated to detailing her life in Germany with no connection whatsoever to the Stasi. She goes on and on, repeatedly, about floor tiles. We have to read paragraphs about how disdainful she is of the clothing of others, or their makeup. She even tells us about her dreams, and what food she cooked. This is not some uninterested observer; her story reads more like a college student on vacation who occasionally remembers she's there to write a book on a very serious topic.

In fact, even as she interviews people she admits to drinking heavily, and many mornings she wakes with a hangover; not exactly professional behavior. When she is interviewing she is constantly complaining about the time people are taking to tell stories, as if she is desperate for them to get to the point so that she can go back to the next round at the bar.

She seems incredibly stuck up and prudish, and incredibly judgmental of the citizens of East Germany, particularly if they are poor. At one point she tries to make a big parallel to totalitarianism by writing about how she made a huge stink at a swimming pool because she didn't bother to follow its rules. She is overly privileged and way too reactive; about the worst 'journalist' you could imagine.

She peppers her narrative with details that just seem fake. For example, one elderly man is recounting a story that happened decades ago (to his WIFE, not even his own story but one we get third-hand) and in the middle of his wife's story, retold by him, we are breathlessly informed that 'the only sound was of the other men rifling through her apartment.' Who said this? The woman said it to her husband 30 years ago, and the husband repeated it word for word for the author? Or did the author simply invent that detail because it felt juicier for her? I tend to believe the latter. The book is crammed full of moments like this, and it seems skeevy and dirty, and not at all truthful or realistic.

A few things she writes are utterly unbelievable and sound like they came out of a Monty Python sketch, and of course she provides absolutely NO evidence that these moments actually occurred. One example: a chief propagandist for the Stasi is sitting in his chair, supposedly shouting at her and turning red, and in the middle of his apopleptic shouting fit he declares, 'NOTHING ANGERS ME, THAT'S WHY I'M A COMMUNIST SO NOTHING CAN ANGER ME.' The whole situation is so ironic and so utterly perfect for her narrative that I don't for a second believe those words were uttered.

Another example: one ex-stasi man stole a plate from his office after quitting the service, and supposedly the government created a 'Working Group on Plate Re-Procurement' and investigated for months. We are just supposed to believe that without any documentation or other testimony at all. Utterly absurd.

The only thing I learned from this book is that 'interviewing random people you found by way of a newspaper article asking for elderly Stasi collaborators without doing any fact-checking will not lead you to any sort of useful information.'

Totally not recommended; tedious and fake. Very disappointing.
Profile Image for Muphyn.
588 reviews67 followers
July 13, 2015
This was quite a fascinating book, especially since it's a bit of a walk down memory lane for me.

I had heard that it is quite a controversial book, especially in Germany, and thus I didn't quite know what to expect. I didn't expect the sort of memoir that this book is but I actually found that it worked quite well. And I think because Stasiland is a personal book and it never seeks to be objective in the sense a history book might aim to be, Anna Funder is in a position to take sides and becomes involved in people's lives, like Miriam's (that was a "nice" story). I enjoyed the personal journey Anna Funder undertakes, the different people she met and chatted to, and I really appreciated her honesty, e.g. about her mother's illness and death.

Of course, what I didn't like so much was some of the blundering generalisations Funder makes - irritating to say the least. A bit more research wouldn't have done the book any harm. Statements like "No-one watched the GDR news" or "Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler... the most hated face of the regime" are just blatantly untrue. I now wonder whether she didn't just write them knowing full well she was generalising but wanting to make a statement. Hm, not sure. But there were quite a few of these ridiculous statements.

But what really irritated me was her claim that the Pioneer Youth organisation and the FDJ Young adult organisation mirrored the Nazi Pimpfe and Hitler Youth exactly!! Fair dinkum! That is a bold claim to make and there's no real backing up. I just found that ludicrous, to say the least.

Perhaps it is because I come from a research background that I would have liked a bit more information on how she collected her data, simply because she reproduces entire conversations she had with some of the people she met. Were they just written down as she recalls them or based on recorded conversations? And if she did record the interviews, I would have been curious to hear about the reactions by people - especially the Stasi men, were they happy to be recorded? Did she take notes the whole time or how did she go about it? Things like that.

Related to this is also the question of translation - obviously Funder conducted the interviews/meetings in German (she's quite a fluent German speaker, as you'd expect of someone who's lived in Germany for many years). Did she translate them, or did someone else do it? What about things that couldn't be translated or are very hard to translate? how did she go about that? and so on. But that's just me, overanalysing things perhaps...

Overall, Anna Funder's book is a great snapshot of different people's lives, and it's great that she managed to portray both perpetrators and victims. Of course, it is too superficial in parts but for people who don't know much about East German history and don't want to read a full-on history book, this is a great introduction!
Profile Image for Boudewijn.
649 reviews80 followers
May 22, 2023
The ruthlessness of the Stasi

One of my last holidays that I spend with my parents we went to the Härz Mountains in Germany, which straddle the states of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. As Saxony-Anhalt was part of East-Germany and Lower Saxony part of West-Germany, the GDR border cut through our holiday area. It was somewhere in the beginning of the 1990s, the GDR had collapsed but the two countries still weren't formally reunited. We spent a few days in the former border area, visiting one of the remaining watch towers and Berlin, where the streets were packed with street sellers selling DDR memorabilia.

A few years later, after watching the movie "Good Bye Lenin!", where a son pretends the Berlin Wall has not fallen to spare his mother a potentially fatal shock, the image of the DDR stuck with me as an era of playful design and lost illusions.

But how wrong was I. The stories from former East Germans recorded by Anna Funder in this book revealed to me the degrees of hatred, homesickness, anger, pain, sobriety the Stasi had caused and how East Germans still cope to this day with the the necessity and impossibility of forgetting.

Everybody who thinks the GDR was just a playful state based on a mistake, should read this impressive book, in which the 37-year-old Anna Funder has recorded life stories from the GDR - stories of perpetrators and victims and from the grey area between those two.

These are the stories of Miriam, who as a 16-year-old almost successfully escaped to the West, only to be captured at the last moment. Or Julia, who couldn't find a job anywhere because she had an Italian boyfriend. Frau Paul, who in 1961 became mother of a handicapped child who needed medical attention in the West, only to be separated by her son when the Mauer was built.


The Stasi was a ruthless organization that tortured its prisoners, people disappeared or never heard of again, threatened and blackmailed and where people simply were expelled from life: no schooling, no work, no relations. Destroyed.

Anna Funder's personal stories speak for themselves: Miriam was imprisoned, deprived of any sleep for two weeks in order to get her confession. Her husband was also arrested and died under suspicious circumstances in his cell. Miriam was not allowed to see him, was only granted a closed coffin and to this day doesn't know whether her husband was really in that coffin, or was secretly cremated in order to hide any signs of torture. Julia was offered a job only if she became an informant to spy on her Italian boyfriend. Frau Paul tried to escape to the West by use of the famous Bernauer Strasse tunnel, but she was captured. The Stasi tried to recruit her in order to be able to arrest and kidnap her West-German handler and as a deal offered her an opportunity to see her son, who still was treated in a West-Berlin hospital.

A lie within a lie

With a staggering ratio of one informant for every 63 civilians, the Stasi was one and a half times the size of the army. With a combination of terror and rewards, people stayed in line. Anna Funder also speaks with former Stasi employees. Some have come to regret their actions, others still cling on to their ideologies. All now realize that they were living in a lie, but at the time did not want to admit it because they were afraid of the alternative, which was to admit it was all for nothing.

Anna Funder's honest and relatable writing, which includes sharing personal details such as her sloppy life in Berlin is very accessible. Her inability to comprehend what she hears, even her hangovers, all is shared with the reader. It didn't bother me, instead it gave a personal touch to the story that adds a personal touch to the narrative and helps readers process the difficult and shocking stories with a sense of comfort and shared experience.

Stasiland reveals the fallacy of the impression held by outsiders that the wound of the GDR has healed into a neat scar of nostalgic humor. Stasiland shows how much that impression is a mistake.

Read more of my reviews here

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Profile Image for Jonny.
126 reviews66 followers
October 21, 2020
Not really so long ago, East Germany was one of the most tightly controlled countries on the planet. So popular was the regime and it's policies, that it maintained a security service of Orwellian proportion, tasked both with protecting the elite from the unwashed masses, and ensuring that said masses avoided any thoughts of freedom, democracy or originality.

There are a number of stories, from both sides of the looking glass recounted here, both the victims of Stasi and members of the security forces (who manage, on the whole, to remain terrifyingly wedded to their ideology). The pettiness and vindictiveness of the regime is tempered by the resilience of their victims in kicking back against their persecutors, and as ever the best revenge is living as good a life as you can manage in the aftermath of the fall of the Wall.

Anna Funder's book is well written and very readable. If I had a gripe, it would be that the full historical context isn't placed next to the main stories. My favourite story was the lady do-opted into informing for the Stasi who succeeds in ducking duty by telling her colleagues at work now pleased she was that the regime trusted her sufficiently that she could spy on them. Take that Miekle!

Living with surveillance obviously is no laughing matter. Try inviting someone round to visit these days and see what I mean! Four stars all round.
Profile Image for Sotiria.
230 reviews47 followers
December 7, 2020
I have read a lot of books about WWII and the Cold war but never before have I read anything about the realities of living in East Germany under the Soviet rule. I could not even imagine the extent of the horrors that people endured there. The more stories I read, the more horrified I became.
It never ceases to amaze me how innovative people can be in their cruelty....
My only "problem" with the book is that I would much prefer it if we spend more time with the stories of all these people affected by the regime and less time with the author herself.
I did not mind the parts that were more about her and her feelings and perspectives but it felt like it slowed down the narration and took away from the focus on the things that actually mattered: the lives -and deaths- of people behind the Berlin Wall...
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,054 followers
November 24, 2011
Horror romance. I can't think of anything better than what Anna Funder came up with to describe the fascination with life in the DDR, behind the Berlin wall and under the microscope (real perverts use petrie dishes. Fact!). It's like that tv show with Tim Roth (the name escapes me right now. My mom "treated" me to a long speech like their techniques to spot liars would actually work and then forced reasons to try them on absolutely everyone and kept calling me a liar for stupid things. I imagine that was what a stasi interrogation was like). This is our system. Now we will look at you and look for reasons. Or if you've seen The Wire, it's "juking the stats". Everything you were told was a lie. The media had agendas. Or, you know, live in the world today (by watching it on tv! Like I do). The reason why for the horror romance is something difficult for me to put my finger on. There are too many parallels. I don't want it to still exist and in some ways it still does. I don't want to go there! But I want to know, well, everything in some creepy way reading about it in some immediate way that is harder to do with the present day. (Just like the stasi, Mariel! You are so bad wanting to know everything!) I don't think it is what Funder writes about that they had the hope for the future, for something better. That was kinda bullshit, really. I don't think knowing the outcome (if you can know all the repercussions) is hope for the future. How could you not feel unending anxiety living like that? If you still thought for yourself. I'm inclined to think it is what David Foster Wallace wrote in The Pale King about people wanting a parental figure to do all of their thinking for them. That doesn't feel quite right to me for the horror romance reason but it is the closest I've got for why more people aren't mad that Huffington post can buy up sidewalks and the NYPD protects banks and zoning restrictions.... It sure as shit isn't schadenfreude. It almost feels like being in a similar boat. How can anyone be nostalgic for life under a police state? For equal poverty? If you didn't know how to work the system, finagle your way in to lord about others. Spying on neighbors, on wives and husbands, children on parents. What someone can get used to. The side that says things are that bad and then when it is because you're the one that fell through the cracks. If you've got nothing to hide... If you've got nothing to fear, right? Is it the voice in the back of the mind that goes but wait and the sleeping with one eye open that draws me to read about police states of the past. You know, until I go to sleep. There was no such thing as the good old days but you can put it in a history book. Past.

When I first learned of ostalgia I had pretty much figured it was felt by those who had learned to work the system. Like prison inmates who figure out how to eek out in there and the bigger world outside is harder to slither around in so they can't leave it. But that's not really it, is it? The people in charge kind of stayed in charge, for the most part (much like how top DDR peeps were Nazis). But a lot of them are young people who never knew that life (I was a kid myself when the wall fell). Not all of them are East Germans (what they'll do kinda kills me. Parties and buying authentic appliances and then using them). Can it really be how commercial everything is? (Advertisements are on my goodreads page right now. They know that I love dogs. How do they know that I love dogs?!) Why does anyone need big brother to tell them what to do? I guess people will always have a reason not to talk to each other. Don't talk because anything you say can be used against you. Don't talk because my LCD flat screen made me buy this smart phone! I have to be on it at all times!

I also don't get the Westies who wanted (may still want) the wall back up. They couldn't vote or go anywhere! How could you want that? (It may not be true. A lot of the information imparted in this thing turned out to be bull shit anyway. Anyway, in my Germanpod 101 podcast the German host said that Germans didn't care about politics and were cynical about it because it was choosing between two evils. That chaps my ass in ANY country. If you think you are only offered crap why not demand someone better? They would buy a shitty toaster but that's it! Draw the line.) They also didn't have to fight in wars but... I mean, after what happened with Hitler. How could you ever trust popular opinion again? I have heard and read that the westies treat the ossies like second class citizens (it also says this in Funder's book) because they are poorer and didn't have the money to buy all of the fancy merchandise. They screwed themselves over by letting their own companies go after the wall fell because they wanted the nicer packaging. But then the westies came in with money and bought shit up. It may be because of what I read but I imagined a very Pretty Woman Julia Roberts facing a snotty Rodeo Drive boutique employee when I got lost in the Fendhi and Louis Vitton part when trying to exit the (overrated) KaDaWe shopping mall. I don't have money to spend in there and I wouldn't if I did! I just wanted Mozart chocolate, dammit. Commerce is rough.

My good goodreads friend Kristen and I have had some interesting discussions about why people would want to fuck over the poor, like they don't know that they are poor too. Poor people who bitch about other poor people. Jesus. Like they'd rather protect the extremely wealthy and let them not pay any taxes at all for some kind of illusion. I don't understand why the people in West Berlin would ever want their fellow Germans behind the wall to be stuck there, if they wanted to leave. I don't get it. Sometimes I think it's because people operate on this level where they are going to be that filthy rich person some day and they are protecting their future interests. What I don't get it about it is how that was socialism, what they had in the DDR and the soviet union. How is the current west capitalism? It isn't! It's corporatism. Do they have to cheat and lie and screw over? (I pretty much count anyone who thinks that people who got fired because they got sick and lost their health insurance because they were fired because they got sick are lazy are motherfucking assholes and... something way worse than that. I'm sure there's a German word for it. Why can't they, I don't know, regulate that shit like they are supposed to? If you have insurance not get out of paying it? Or make money on prisons? Actually serve the people. One system versus the other is a joke. Why not call it what it is? Parallels indeed.) The stasi was there to protect the party FROM the people. It just wasn't for the people (it was really to protect the interests of the soviets for a long damned time. I mean fuck the shit that went on). I don't know what to call it is. It isn't really romance. I'm fascinated in what other people would want other people to live under because of what it could to do for them, to hell with anyone else. Maybe I'll get to be big brother too some day!

I read Stasiland because I wanted to know how people lived then and how they were living without it. I applaud her for writing it when all of the people she worked with in Berlin at the time were flat out not interested in the Easterners. It was all poor us, we have to share. (I really like this band but this song is so annoying. Poor wessies! Sob!). Anna Funder's book is good but is lacking something. I really want to describe her writing style like rock music journalist. You know those journalists that go out of their way to tell the reader how the subject really likes them, the journalist, and how that is supposed to validate them somehow? (Read most Morrissey interviews for a good example of this.) I could have dealt with out the "Here we are two pretty blondes sitting side by side" shit (that's not a direct quote but close enough) and loads of "I laughed" and "We laughed together but I don't know why I was laughing" and every damned person she meets likes her (even the stasi creeps) and the men want to bone her. Um, I don't care? She's even disappointed at one point not to be mistaken for a German (she is a nice looking blonde. Who cares? Besides, nearly everyone not over 45 I saw in Berlin 2011 looked like American hipsters. Oh wait, they'd want to look European... Wait, I'm confused! Who looks like who?). She's not quite a good interviewer either. There were times when I doubted the truth of what some of the people were telling her. Funder practically stalks one lady, Miriam (her motivation for the book, or so she says) who is still trying to find out if the stasi murdered her husband or not. Like wants her to like her kind of stalking. Too much she goes back to this. It doesn't lead to any conclusions and I wondered where was the intent.
Why would a teenage girl who didn't care one way or the other about life in the GDR post flyers all over town and in the mailboxes of boys she knew, no less? If it was a given that ANYTHING you said could and would be reported why the hell would you? Funder also doesn't ask why Miriam spontaneously decides to try to flee the DDR, either. I was dubious about the crawling under the wire she just HAPPENED to spot around an unguarded checkpoint AND get the guard dog not to alert them. She just spotted it while on a train and hopped one back to Berlin. Um, yeah right? Sometimes the stories were colored like this and it was annoying that Funder was so impressed with any young girl who was ballsier than usual. Like she needed them to do it more than anything else. How come? I was also more doubtful about the inevitable heroics of the Leipzig demonstrators. They heard on the radio that Gorbachev wasn't gonna help them anymore. They didn't rise up en masse before then. What are breaking points made up of anyway? Why all of the lone attempts to bust out? Why were so many willing to report? One person Funder interviewed thought they liked to have it up on someone else. It made them feel better about being under the same thumb. I believe that. Another favorite German blonde interviewee is her landlady, Julia. Julia misses the DDR because she would not have been raped because that sort of thing didn't happen (really? Just like they didn't have prostitution? Hmm?). She can't live with restrictions after that life. She misses the life. So she moves to San Francisco where they have parades to celebrate rape victims because the authorities in Germany didn't care (her rapist went to jail but she fears he'll get released with the political criminals by mistake). Oh geez. The stalking of Miriam and the parades was not horror romance. Funder wasn't coming close to the reason why there. It touches on why people don't fight back enough under oppressive regimes in questions. I wanted more of that, looking into that, and less victimization. Like the guy who steals a worthless award plate when he leaves the stasi for his own peace of mind. Like that small action could redeem him for not being his own person and his own life.

I did like that she also talked to Stasi officers, if she was decidedly more interested in the teenaged girl victims. I thought it showed that some of them were in it because what else were they going to do? What if they raised you on a lie? What do you do when it is gone? I felt as bad for these kids. Their dads and moms put them in their special schools, mandatory service and what not. Some believed more than others. One of the popular motivators was that the Westies went over before the wall was up and bought up all of the cheap Eastern goods. The stasi encouraged them to do it (still, that makes me about as mad as people who buy up the stuff for poor people at the Good Will and then sell it on ebay for a marked up price). Clever fuckers. How can you trust anyone again when you read the history and find out what you were told, what tricks were played? Did they think they were doing right? Was everyone on a power trip? Some were picking the safety of their kids because that was the choice they had to make. (Although some knew they were fudging reports and lying about successes and then turned their angry eye on the west anyway.) Don't want to go to jail and don't want to die. Or get blacklisted for any and all employment. If you gotta live do you gotta step in line? And can you keep walking if those steps are no longer your own? (I may as well ask why some kids have rebellions and some don't.)

I picked up Stasiland during my trip to Berlin. (The mementos I purchased for myself were this book and toys of Herr Fuchs and Frau Elster from the Unser Sandmännchen tv show. If you don't know that was the adorable and propagandistic kids show appropriated from the west by the east. I love how they tried to emulate the west to placate their "workers" even as they maligned them. Drink this soda and eat our fried chicken! Go to sleep and dream of the high tech future we will never give you! Sleeeeep! But awwww look how cute they are! I made them talk to me and tell me how extravagent I am. )

I really geeked out in the DDR museum. The gift shop was pretty lame though. I could have thought of way better stuff for it because I'm an American.

P.s. When the wife of the former host of the big DDR shows about the evil west (Von something. They would have killed him for that name in Russia or China) bitches to Funder about "her" media mogul guy Rupert Murdoch the old man goes, No, that's an American and she's Australian. I liked Funder for saying he was Aussie and is American now but it would have been even better if she said he was everyone's bane because he so is. Dude, there was no difference between your crap propaganda shows and what is Murdoch's big business. He's everyone's. That's pretty much how I feel about all this shit. There's talk about how the East never dealt with Hitler and pinned all the Nazi blame on the West. Maybe they did. Maybe there are a lot of people who didn't deal with what went on in the DDR. Maybe it's not about looking for heroes but looking for relations. I read about new eugenics and damn I suspect a lot of people of creepy shit stirring in their hearts (or their loins, as they'd have it). I feel horror something about what could happen, what did happen, what I probably don't know about and then about people mixed in and what it is like for them. (Is that it?)

P.s.s. Okay, so good book but it wasn't five stars because it wasn't the DDR book of my dreams. I still don't quite know what that thing is. End of review! (I wish I had good German to read the DDR cookbook.)

P.s.s.s. I forgot to mention all the creepy surveillance shit out nowadays. Former Stasi must get out their advertisements and weep. They use the underwear they stole for smell samples to dry those tears. And the equipment is used to spy on me writing my goodreads reviews... Sob. (My dog steals all my underwear.)
Profile Image for piperitapitta.
950 reviews333 followers
January 9, 2018
Alice in Stasiland.

Venghino siori venghino ad immaginare di provare il brivido di una vita, anzi di tutte le vite dei tedeschi dell'est, messe in vetrina molto prima del Grande Fratello televisivo, pilotate e manovrate già prima del Truman Show, in un clima ed in un'atmosfera completamente disumani e surreali, in una realtà che supera di gran lunga la fantasia.

Venghino siori venghino nel museo della Stasi di Lipsia ad ammirare nelle vetrine "i vasi dei campioni olfattivi", quelli dove venivano custodite le mutande o le canottiere dei sospetti dissidenti, nella convinzione che i cani addestrati potessero rintracciarne le tracce ovunque si nascondessero.

Venghino siori venghino a conoscere le storie di Miriam e di Julia, poco più che adolescenti quando conobbero "il Muro" e poco più che donne quando "il Muro" cominciò a crescere dentro di loro, nei loro cuori e nelle loro vite; quella di Klaus giovane musicista e del giorno in cui lui e la sua band rock cessarono di esistere senza che si fossero sciolti; quella di Frau Paul e della sua scelta: difficile da raccontare, difficile da leggere, impossibile da pensare di fare.

Venghino siori venghino ad incontrare coloro che stavano dall'altra parte di quel vetro, di quei microfoni, di quelle sbarre: li troverete irriducibili, nostalgici, furiosi, ricollocati, pentiti: troverete di tutto intorno a Stasiland, persino trenta persone - le donne dei puzzle - che ogni giorno svuotano i sacchi contenenti documenti tritati o strappati che la Stasi cercò alla fine, con un disperato tentativo, di sottrarre agli occhi del mondo, che lavorano incessantemente alla ricomposizione di ogni singolo foglio.
Se andrà tutto bene, in 375 anni, grazie a questo lavoro certosino, alcune di quelle persone che hanno avuto la propria vita vivisezionata, spiata, analizzata e messa in vetrina, conosceranno il perché del proprio destino.

Anna Funder, giornalista australiana specializzata in lingua tedesca, come una moderna Alice nel Paese delle Meraviglie, laddove la meraviglia assume però una connotazione completamente negativa, si addentra in questi meandri labirintici, cammina lungo un Muro reale e lungo un Muro immaginario fatto di linoleum marroni, beige, marmorizzati, di pareti scrostate e di distese di cemento; scava con grande delicatezza e umanità nella memoria dei protagonisti di un'epoca che il mondo vorrebbe seppellire e nascondere in nome di un'unità ritrovata e restituisce alle vittime il coraggio di raccontare, con voce nitida, le loro storie: le storie di tutti quelli che non hanno voluto piegarsi all'omologazione, all'annullamento, a rinunciare ad essere trattati come uomini e donne liberi di pensare.

La poesia di Charlie

In questa terra
Sono stato male dal silenzio
In questa terra
Mi sono aggirato, sperduto
In questa terra
Mi sono accovacciato per vedere
Cosa sarà di me
In questa terra
Mi sono irrigidito
Per non urlare.
- Però ho urlato, così forte
Che la terra mi ha risposto ululando
Come orrendamente costruisce le sue case.
In questa terra
Sono stato seminato
Solo la mia testa spunta
Per sfida, dalla terra
Ma un giorno anche quella verrà falciata
Rendendomi, finalmente,
Di questa terra.

Il mio pensiero va a Charlie, autore di queste splendide parole, e a tutti quelli che come lui, per restare liberi, sono diventati di questa terra.

Qui una canzone dei Klaus Renft Combo

Profile Image for Sandra.
914 reviews249 followers
September 30, 2015
Il titolo originale del libro è Stasiland e rende in pieno il contenuto ed il senso dell’opera, più che la libera traduzione italiana. Si tratta infatti di un viaggio nel paese della Stasi, , la polizia politica della Ddr, uno tra i più efficienti e capillari servizi di spionaggio di tutti i tempi, lo strumento che il Partito aveva a disposizione, insieme con i carri armati sovietici, perché la Repubblica Democratica Tedesca sopravvivesse per quarant’anni. Tra dipendenti ed informatori nella Ddr c’era un uomo Stasi ogni 63 abitanti, che sorvegliavano minuziosamente le vite di tutti i cittadini, sapevano tutto di tutti e riferivano ai burocrati della politica sull’attività lavorativa, sulle questioni strettamente familiari a partire dalle corna tra coniugi a cose più serie quali le scelte scolastiche o lavorative dei figli, o le relazioni amorose dei giovani con persone non gradite.
L’opera di Anne Funder, giornalista cresciuta in una democrazia occidentale, è un valido reportage giornalistico che raccoglie testimonianze in alcuni casi molto intense di ex uomini Stasi ed ex cittadini della Ddr, costruendo un quadro impressionante di uno stato di polizia,in cui la Stasi era uno stato dentro lo stato, che controllava, terrorizzava, ricattava, torturava i cittadini, riducendo in pezzi e spessissimo in tragedia le loro vite. Non si tratta di un saggio imparziale, dunque, in esso si parte dal “presupposto” che il regime comunista sia stato il peggiore dei mondi possibili; in ogni caso, indipendentemente dalle idee di ciascuno di noi, è un libro utile per farsi un’idea di come sia stato vivere per 40 anni nella Germania Est. Cosa resta oggi dei migliaia di fascicoli contenuti negli archivi Stasi? Restano milioni di pezzetti di carta triturati che un gruppo di persone stanno ricostruendo come un puzzle, a Norimberga, per dare un senso a tante domande che i cittadini della ex Ddr che hanno perso parenti o amici continuano a farsi: si calcola che ci vorranno 375 anni per ricostruire tutto. Facile comprendere quale sia la volontà politica occidentale:meglio, quasi per tutti, dimenticare.
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,716 reviews2,311 followers
March 14, 2022
"East Germany has disappeared, but its remains are still on site."

• STASILAND: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder, 2002.

Funder, an Australian journalist, studied in West Germany as an exchange student in the 80s. She returns to Berlin, takes a job in 1996 after the Wall falls, and starts to piece together oral histories of East Germans and their encounters with the Stasi, the GDR's infamous intelligentsia that surveilled its people for 41 years.

Told that no one will talk to her about those times, she digs just a bit and finds many stories: a widow whose husband died in Stasi custody, Stasi operatives who remain "true believers" who spied, spouted propaganda, a woman whose sick infant was moved to West Germany for treatment and her desperate attempts to reunite.

Interspersed with these deeply personal stories are historical chapters on the Stasi and the GDR, and Funder's own narrative of Berlin's transition.

What struck me is that while many people expressed their deep unhappiness with the regime after the fact, there was not a larger "culture of opposition" that you saw in other Bloc countries like Hungary & Czechoslovakia in the 1950s on in the GDR. Funder suggests this is because so many dissidents were conveniently traded or even sold to West Germany for hard currency.

Another very interesting note of cognitive dissonance / revisionism in GDR is belief that they themselves were innocent of Nazism. Not believing themselves to be the same Germans who put Hitler in power, rather East Germans liberated by their Russian brothers from Nazi oppression (!)

So much more to check into and read on here, but an absolutely fascinating and equally horrifying and sobering look at this time in history. Which was not too long ago at all.

Highly recommended.

📚 Related / recommended reading:
▫️For the style of oral history journalism: NOTHING TO ENVY and EAT THE BUDDHA by Barbara Demick
▫️For GDR + Bloc history: IRON CURTAIN by Anne Applebaum
Profile Image for Sonja Arlow.
1,080 reviews7 followers
September 26, 2016
The hardest books to review are those that you almost love.

I think the author had the best of intentions and a burning desire to tell stories of a nation that has suffered so much but I got the impression that she was quite overwhelmed by all that was told to her that she didn’t want to leave out any little detail.

So she didn’t.

The result is a mix between a memoir, travelogue and collection of non-fiction stories which left me with the feeling that the impact of each story was diluted somehow.

This makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the reading experience but I did. I learned a LOT about what it was like to live in the DRG and at times had to shake my head laughing at the sheer pettiness of the Stasi police.

For example, it was not illegal to apply to leave East Germany but if you applied to leave you were suspected to WANT to leave and that was a crime….. Yes read that again… it makes no sense.

It reminded me of the song Hotel California. ”You can get out any time you want but you can never leave”

The sheer scale of citizen surveillance boggles the mind and disloyalty was measured in the smallest of things. The people interviewed was an eclectic group. From ordinary citizens to the cartographer who painted the actual lines where the wall would go.

So overall I was glad I read this even if it did leave me somehow unsatisfied.
Profile Image for martin.
482 reviews15 followers
July 17, 2007
This book works well as a personal and very subjective account of a process of trying to learn about something that no longer exists. It's not an objective, deeply researched study of the GDR, more a description of fascinating personal experiences and discoveries.

I lived in the GDR for a year as a student back in the 1970s. The reality was in fact far more complex and layered (and contradictory) than Ms Funder describes but I enjoyed the book as it showed a genuine attempt to understand and occasionally make personal judgements about the effect that society had on some of its people.
Profile Image for Arash.
246 reviews96 followers
May 24, 2023
می‌گوید: «هیچ آدمی نیست که کامل باشه، هر کسی مشکلات خودش رو داره. مال من شاید یه کم سخت‌تر باشه، اما مهم اینه که آدم چطور باهاشون برخورد می‌کنه.»
«و تو چطور این‌کارو می‌کنی؟» مستقیم با او رودررو می‌شوم. به بدن درهم پیچیده‌اش نگاه می‌کنم و به صدای نفسش از میان تمام لوله‌هایی که در بدنش کار گذاشته‌اند گوش می‌کنم. «خب، برای من یه کم مشکله. فکر می‌کنم زندگی‌م ممکنه خیلی زود به پایان برسه بنابراین هیچ‌جور جاه‌طلبی بلندمدتی ندارم. هرچیزی که می‌خوام برای الان می‌خوام، می‌خوام امروز تجربه‌ش کنم. نمی‌تونم صبر کنم که پول جمع‌کنم یا یه جور کار و کاسبی راه بندازم. عصبی‌م می‌کنه. بقیه می‌گن: «تو وقت داری، هنوز نسبتاً جوونی.» اما من همیشه می‌ترسم که همه‌چیز هر لحظه به پایان برسه.» مکث می‌کند. «از نظر سیاسی هم همین‌طوره. همه‌چیز ممکنه ناگهان تغییر کنه اون‌وقت من دیگه فرصتی برای تجربه‌‌ی چیزای خاص ندارم.»
اشاره می‌کنم که برای چیزی به آن بزرگی، چیزی که زندگی آن‌ها را بی‌رحمانه تغییر داده است، دشوار می‌توان اثری از دیوار پیدا کرد. می‌خواهم بگویم عجیب است که بگذاریم همه این‌قدر سریع فراموش کنند که تورستن می‌گوید: «خوشحالم که گم‌و‌گور شده و خوشحالم که چیز کمی ازش برای دیدن مونده وگرنه یادم می‌نداخت که ممکنه برگرده. که هر چیزی که اتفاق افتاد ممکنه تکرار بشه.»
می‌خندم: «اما همچین چیزی امکان نداره!»
با هوشیاری نگاهم می‌کند. می‌گوید: «همه‌چیز ممکنه. هیچ‌وقت نمی‌شه گفت چیزی ممکن نیست.»ا
کتاب یه نان فیکشن سیاسیه مربوط به آلمان شرقی و اشتازی. نویسنده به خوبی تونسته لا به لای اتفاقات تاریخی و تلخ دیوار برلین یک روایت بسیار گیرا از کار دربیاره. جایی که اشتازی به هر کاری دست میزد تا از همه چی خبر داشته باشه، تا جایی که از اصل غافل شدن و سقوط خودشون رو دیدن. شخصیت کتاب به دنبال اعضای سابق اشتازی میره تا با اونها درمورد اتفاقاتی که در طول مدتی که عضو اشتازی بودن و انگیزه هاشون و کارهایی که انجام دادن پرس و جو کنه که در این بین با روایت اتفاقات بسیار دردناکی مواجه میشیم.
کتاب خوبی بود، برای منی که علاقه زیادی به دوران جنگهای جهانی و به خصوص هیتلر دارم خوندنش جذابیت بیشتری داشت.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,737 reviews1,469 followers
July 11, 2012
ETA: I want to make myself really clear. I wanted to give this book five stars. That is how I reacted; I thought it was amazing and astounding what the author depicted through this book. It was only my head that reduced one star because I was a bit annoyed by some of the generalizations.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but it sure did surprise me. Being a book of non-fiction I expected objectivity in its analysis of life behind the Wall. The author is not impartial. Shouldn't one be impartial when trying to get a correct/honest/fair view of the situation in the GDR? Life behind the Wall so changed people's lives, in ways that neither those living in the GDR and outsiders could ever imagine. It is so very clear that the author wants us to emotionally understand these people and what they have lived through. Emotions cannot be looked at clinically. Either you offer up a dry, scientific examination or you dare to throw out hypotheses and proclaim this is what happened, this is what they did and this is how these individuals reacted emotionally. The last cannot be scientifically proven, but is nevertheless important to tackle. I believe this book shows accurately how people's lives were forever altered. This needs to be understood; a few subjective statements can be tolerated to achieve the larger goal of illuminating how life was behind the Wall.

Here follow some examples of subjective analyses:

"She (Julia)is a hermit-crab all soft fleshed with friends, but ready to whisk back into its shell at the slightest sign of contact."

The prison "smelled of damp and old urine and vomit and earth. The smell of misery."

The author acknowledges her preference for some of those she contacts: "I liked him for his self-knowledge, and smiled back."

But then you even run into generalizations like "No-one watched the GDR news...." and a sweeping disparagement of socialism, that did put me off.

The author is not impartial, she makes subjective statements and even a few ridiculous generalizations, but at the same time she shows us what these people lived through. They lived in a world that is so absurd and unbelievable that it is hard to imagine.

And fear remains, because even after the wall has been torn down and one should be able to reason that life could never, ever return to the way it had been......that life that had existed is equally unimaginable. If that was real, well then just about anything could happen in the future. Some of the Stasi employees continued to work in the government after the fall of the Wall. Others have idealized how life had been behind the Wall. There is a conflict - do we go on and just forget the past and get on with the new, or do we dredge through it and expose exactly what occurred? It is not feasibly possible to expose everything, but this book at least sheds some light on what occurred. It should be read.

History is made of personal stories. The author meets those who were Stasi members, others who were murdered by Stasi agents, blackmailed and forever altered by what was inflicted upon them. One woman still today has no doors in her apartment, she lived recently at the top of an apartment building so she could see everything. She cannot stick to fixed times and schedules, not if before every move had been scrupulously followed. Such a person cannot bear the thought of ever being pinned down again.

Another woman had to choose between visiting her sick child in a West Berlin hospital or agreeing to help in a kidnapping. Which do you choose? Only after five years did her child come to live with her. Could she ever really be a mother to this child?

I was worried that the book would not hold together; it would consist of separate interviews with disparate individuals. The book does hold together because the author repeatedly meets some of the individuals. She becomes a friend and slowly they open up to her. As they open up to her, we too come to understand what life really was like there behind the Wall.

I listened to the audiobook. The narrator, Denica Fairman, was excellent, although all the men had the same voice and the women another. One was never confused.
Profile Image for Nafiseh.
54 reviews4 followers
October 2, 2018
ما جدا افتاده ایم و ستاره همدردی از شب هستی سر می زند.
ما می رویم و آیا در پی ما یادی از درها خواهد گذشت ؟
ما می گذریم و آیا غمی بر جای ما ، در سایه ها خواهد نشست؟
برویم از سایه نی شاید جایی ، ساقه آخرین گل برتر را در سبد ما افکند. (سهراب)

پس از سقوط نازي ها ،آلمان به دو بخش شرقي (جمهوري دموكراتيك آلمان تحت حاكميت شوروي) و غربي( تحت كنترل متفقين فرانسه انگليس و امريكا) تقسيم شد.
به علت مهاجرت هاي فراواني كه از شرق به غرب رخ داده بود و در نتيجه آن شرق در معرض فروپاشي اقتصادي ناشي از نبود نيروي كار و متخصص قرار گرفت ،با دستور نيكيتا خروچشف (رهبر اتحاد جماهير شوروي)ديوار برلين ساخته شد.ديواري با ارتفاع حدودن دو متر با عنوان ديوار حافظ ضد فاشيست( ويكي پديا )

كتاب اشتازي لَند مي پردازد به : وقايع پس از احداث ديوار و آسيب هاي بي شماري كه توسط اشتازي ( وزارت امنيت آلمان شرقي )بر پيكر جامعه آلمان شرقي وارد شد .شعار اشتازي:دشمن كسي ست كه دگر انديش باشد.
كتاب گرد آوري خاطرات افراديست كه آن برهه ي مخوف و اندوهناك از آلمان شرقي رو تجربه كرده اند چه به عنوان قرباني مثل ميريام كه هنوز جاي سيم هاي خاردار ديوار برلين روي دستاش باقي مانده و جاي مرگ چارلي روي قلبش و چه مثل آقاي بوك به عنوان استاد آكادمي آموزشي وزارت خانه كه انضباط ويژه تدريس مي كرده .( انضباط ويژه: علم استخدام خبرچين).مثل خانم پاول كه "ديوار ،مستقيم از ميان قلبش عبور كرده "چرا كه وزارت بهداشت آلمان شرقي به علت بي عرضه گي ،بي مسئوليتي ناكارآمدي و فساد و و و قادر به ارائه خدمات درماني به فرزندش نبوده و درخواست هاي خانم پاول اينگونه پاسخ داده ميشده : اگر پسر شما اين قدر مريضه ،شايد بهتر باشه بميره .و بدون اطلاع به وي فرزندش به غرب فرستاده ميشه.
به نطرم نثر خانم فاندر در عين زيبايي كمي هم بي نظمه البته كه نوع روايت مستند نگاري و گزارش گونه ست ومن درك ميكنم هدف ايشان از گنجاندن خاطرات شخصي خودشون شايد به جهت تلطيف و پخش و پلا كردن كردن رنج هاي متمركز در خط به خط زندگي ساكنان اشتازي لَند باشه و البته ترسيم چهره شهر بعد از فروپاشي حكومت كمونيستي اما خب ميتونست بهتر منسجم تر و هدفمندتر باشه.به هر حال كتابي ست كه بايد در آن خواند : "اشتازي از حكومت در برابر مردم حفاظت مي كرد."

از متن كتاب :

"در اين سرزمين
من خودم را از سكوت بيمار كرده ام
در اين سرزمين
پرسه زده ام و گم شده ام
در اين سرزمين
زانو زدم تا ببينم
به چه چيزي تبديل مي شوم.
در اين سرزمين
خودم را محكم گرفته ام
تا فرياد نزنم.
...اما فرياد كشيدم، چنان بلند
كه اين سرزمين هم بر سرم فرياد كشيد
به همان ترسناكي كه خانه هايش را مي سازد.
در اين سرزمين
من در خاك كاشته شده ام
فقط سرم مانده،سركشانه،بيرون از خاك
اما روزي آن هم دفن مي شود
تا عاقبت من را جزئي از اين سرزمين كند."

"در برلین شرقی، صاحب رستوران خیابان روبه‌رو را نشانم داد و به من گفت پدر مادرها به اینجا می‌آیند و پنهانی کودکان‌شان را به سمت دیگر دیوار بالا می‌گیرند. آن‌ها که از آن‌سو این کار را می‌کنند معمولاً کودک را در معرض دید پدربزرگ و مادربزرگش قرار می‌دهند؛ پیرزن و پیرمردهایی‌که ای�� طرف دیوار جا مانده‌اند. در این سو اما به جز این موارد، مواقعی هم هست که پدر و مادرها کودک را بالا می‌گیرند بی‌آن‌که کسی آن سوی دیوار باشد. من این صحنه را بارها از این بالا دیده‌ام؛ کسی آن سوی دیوار نیست. انگار پدر و مادرها در آخرین تقلایشان برای غلبه بر یأس و برای تجربه‌ی دنیایی که در حسرتش مانده‌اند، می‌خواهند خودشان را این‌طور آرام کنند. آن‌ها می‌خواهند اطمینان پیدا کنند دنیایی که در آن چشم کودکان‌شان به دیوار سیمانی گره نمی‌خورد، چیز ممکنی است. حتم دارم در آن لحظه به خودشان می‌گویند: "این چشم‌ها شاید روزی دنیای آن سوی دیوار را ببیند؛ دنیایی بدون اشتازی، دنیایی بدون مردان بارانی‌پوش و مرموز."این‌ها را ک�� می‌گفت، لحنش به شدت احساسی شده بود. نگاه متعجب مرا که دید، گفت: «اصلاً چرا من این صحنه‌ها را قضاوت کنم؟ بچه را می‌گیرند، به سمت دنیای بدون دیوار، به سمت افقی که هیچ دیواری مانع دیدنش نشود."

"اشتباهي كه جمهوري دموكراتيك كرد اين بود كه مردم رو وادار كرد موضع بگيرن . شما يا هوادار ماييد يا دشمن ما. و اگه به اين نتيجه مي رسيدين كه دشمن هستيد بايد از خودتون مي پرسيدين : من اينجا چه كار مي كنم؟ اونا مي خواستن همه چيز رو توي الگوي محدود خودشون بگنجونن اما زندگي به اين سادگيا قالب نمي گيره."

يه روز شادي فرا مي رسه كه من پنجاه و پنج ساله شدم و با هيوا ( فرزند خياليم) نشستيم زير سايه ي همون درخته كه من همچنان اسمشو بلد نيستم، باريكه نازكي از نور طلايي رنگي روي چشم راست هيوا جا خوش ميكنه، هيوا چشماشو مي بنده و يه نفس عميق مي كشه و سرش رو ميذاره روي زانو هاي من و اينجانب از همين نقطه از زمان و مكان براش پر پر ميشم .برام از آينده ي روشنش ميگه برام از دلخوشي هاي حجيم و تموم نشدنيش ميگه ، برام از آهنگي ميگه كه قراره با هما( دوست دختر فرزند خياليم كه البته ايشون در حال حاضر وجود خارجي داره و دو سالشه و من عاشقشم) بسازن و من كه هيچي از موسيقي سر در نمي آرم لبخند مي زنم و موهاي فرفري شو به هم مي ريزم . برام ميگه كه يه شاعر آلماني فرموده : "هر جا که کلام نتواند پیش برود، موسیقی آغاز می‌شود. "و بعد با استناد بر اين فرموده ميگه كه قراره اسم آهنگشون رو بذارن "شريان بي نام گردنت را" و من مي پرسم: را چي؟ اون ميگه: فعلش در موسيقي مستتر شده ديگه ولي تو حدس بزن مامان، من حدس ميزنم و ميگم " را بوسيدم "شك نكن . .بعد هر دو تامون به احساساتي و لوس و ننر بودن خودمون افتخار مي كنيم و ريز ريز مي خنديم و قربون هم ميريم .هيوا خوش حاله و من هرگز بهش نميگم كه حدودن بيست و چهار سال پيش زير همين درخته نشستم و چه قدر از خودم و تموم بستني شكلاتي هاي دنيا بيزار شدم .بهش نميگم كه حدودن بيست و چهار سال پيش هزار هزار تا مجراي اشك جديد هر روز و هر هفته زير همين درخته افتتاح ميشد و يه عالمه كُلنگ با دست هاي چرب و چيلي زخم مي زدند به ديواره هاي گلوي هم دوره اي هاي من .
يه روز شاد مياد كه همه ي همه ي كلاهك هاي هسته اي همه ي همه ي حصار ها و حائل ها به درخت هايي خوش قد و قامت تبديل ميشن و سايه هاي خوش آب و هواشون ميشه محل گفتگوهاي بدون درد ،بدون غصه .محل بوسيدن شريان هاي بي نام .محل سر به زانو گذاشتن هاي بي دغدغه.
پايان يك خيال مرطوب كه با عقل نياميخت.

به تاريخ روزي كه رد انگشت يه پسر بچه روي يخچال بستنيا ثبت شد و پدرش گفت الان كارتم همراهم نيست بابا باشه براي فردا و بعد ابر بهار باريدن گرفت .آيا بستني شكلاتي اي كه از گوله گوله هاي اشك آب نميشه ديگه خوردن داره ؟

آيي و بگذري به من و باز ننگري
اي جان من فداي تو اين نيز بگذرد
Profile Image for J..
455 reviews184 followers
June 17, 2017
As the most visibly catastrophic wreckage of the Cold War, the gray horror of life in the German Democratic Republic-- East Germany--- was carefully choreographed by the security apparatus, the Stasi. The basics of state control were expanded to previously unimaginable heights with the Stasi's network of informants and secret police.

Anna Funder's participatory journalism brings the ghosts of this bizarre surveillance state out to tell their own story in the vivid Stasiland, which manages to be intriguing while astringent, morbidly fascinating. There are the grisly details like the Smell Jars and Radiation Tagging (too reminiscent of recent story of Mr Litvinenko), the nightmare of the Wall and the upside-down logic of the Security State. But the unforgettable moments are down to Human Nature in its very worst guises, always able to invent something a little worse or more manipulative for the right perk, price, or contraband slab of meat.

Like some "Crucible" of backbiting and vicious rumor gone viral, the intricate methodology of the Stasi to 'turn' the citizenry to inform against itself was unrivalled, it seems. In a poisoned atmosphere of distrust and suspicion, even innocent defensive postures were reconfigured to appear sinister, worthy of a "report" to the guardians, rewarded and duly noted in the files.

Ms Funder's somber account keeps true to the timbral properties-- the murk, must, and banality of the regime. The GDR period's emotional tenor of stifled hysteria, the tactile sense of the presence of cornered animals in every corner, is rendered by the prose style very directly. But as with any once-elaborate system in steep and irreversible decline, there's an odd beauty alongside the rot... There is a kind of enigmatic Home-For-The-Holidays feel here, but only if the holiday in question is another workday, and the home is Orwell's 1984.

Disturbing, recommended.
Profile Image for Dimitri.
797 reviews197 followers
February 5, 2020
"What surprises me about living here is that, no matter how much is taken out, this linoleum palace continues to contain all the necessities for life, at the same time as it refuses to admit a single thing, either accidentally or arranged, of beauty, or joy. In this, I think, it is much like East Germany itself."
Profile Image for Jamie Smith.
488 reviews76 followers
March 9, 2022
The idea of Communism once had the power to inspire people, and it may do so again. In a world of sharp inequality, when political and judicial systems were rigged in favor of the rich and powerful, the idea of compassionate sharing and prosperity for all once led smart, dedicated people to join the cause. As modern society continues to tilt so that fractions of one percent control more wealth and more power every year, the specter of communism may once more rise to haunt society.

In practice, it was a flawed idea badly implemented: coercive, enforced by terror, with arbitrary laws and suppression of freedom, and it manifested itself in corruption, inefficiency, and the inability to deliver basic services to its people. When communism collapsed in the Soviet Union it was discovered that half of all hospitals did not even have hot running water, and the only way to provide life-saving drugs was for the patients’ families to buy them on the black market, where they were for sale after having been stolen by doctors and administrators.

And yet, it wasn’t all bad for all people all the time. John Scott was an idealistic American who traveled to the Soviet Union in the 1930s to help build communism, and remained committed to the cause even after he was kicked out of the country during the wave of xenophobia that accompanied Stalin’s purges. In his book Behind the Urals (1942) he wrote that his wife was the daughter of peasants and would have been destined to a life of poverty and illiteracy under the Tsars, but the communists allowed anyone with the desire and aptitude to pursue their education, and she eventually graduated from college. There are many stories like hers, and despite the brutish way it was implemented, Stalin did succeed in industrializing the Soviet Union just in time to throw back the Nazis. Without it their only recourse would have been to burn their cities and crops and retreat behind the Urals, hoping that the eventual Allied invasion from the west would save them.

But every time I find myself starting to feel ambivalent about communism’s costs versus its achievements, I read a book like Stasiland, and it recalibrates me: it was an evil system, rotten to the core, a depraved mockery of the ideals of peace, justice, and equality on which it had been founded. It used high-sounding rhetoric to mask its true self, and as the author of this book says, “The romance comes from the dream of a better world the German Communists wanted to build out of the ashes of their Nazi past: from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. The horror comes from what they did in its name.”

When Germany was divided into East and West the leaders of the East Germany (GDR) implemented a program to try to mould its people into loyal, docile, obedient workers. With complete control over education and the press, and the ability to violently suppress any dissent, they began their program, and because they never heard any complaints, they thought they had been successful:

In the GDR people were required to acknowledge an assortment of fictions as fact. Some of these fictions were fundamental, such as the idea that human nature is a work-in-progress which can be improved upon, and that Communism is the way to do it. Others were more specific: that East Germans were not the Germans responsible (even in part) for the Holocaust; that the GDR was a multi-party democracy; that socialism was peace-loving; that there were no former Nazis left in the country; and that, under socialism, prostitution did not exist.

They were no doubt confused when Germans voted with their feet. “As well as leaving to work in the western sector each day, hundreds and later thousands of refugees started leaving the eastern sector for good. By 1961 about 2000 people were leaving the east each day through West Berlin.”

It was impossible for the leaders to admit errors, so they responded, as communism so often does, with force, criminalizing unauthorized emigration to the West and building the wall. “Ulbricht, the head of state, decided he needed to build an ‘anti-fascist protective measure’. I have always been fond of this term which has something of the prophylactic about it, protecting easterners from the western disease of shallow materialism. It obeys all the logic of locking up free people to keep them safe from criminals.”

At the heart of the GDR was the Stasi, an organization so large, malevolent, and absurd that future historians will probably insist that our stories about it are exaggerations, if not outright myths. It was real, though, in a grotesque Kafka-esque way, a system designed to keep track of everyone in the country all the time. “The internal service of the Stasi was designed to spy on and control the citizens of the GDR. The only way to make sense of its name is to understand the Stasi as defending the government against the people.”

And it was huge, one and a half times the size of the Army:

At the end, the Stasi had 97,000 employees—more than enough to oversee a country of seventeen million people. But it also had over 173,000 informers among the population. In Hitler’s Third Reich it is estimated that there was one Gestapo agent for every 2000 citizens, and in Stalin’s USSR there was one KGB agent for every 5830 people. In the GDR, there was one Stasi officer or informant for every sixty-three people. If part-time informers are included, some estimates have the ratio as high as one informer for every 6.5 citizens.

The system was recursive and self-perpetuating, so that sometimes it seems like a creation of Monty Python, or something straight out of Terry Gilliam’s 1985 movie Brazil:

I once saw a note on a Stasi file from early 1989 that I would never forget. In it a young lieutenant alerted his superiors to the fact that there were so many informers in church opposition groups at demonstrations that they were making these groups appear stronger than they really were. In one of the most beautiful ironies I have ever seen, he dutifully noted that, by having swelled the ranks of the opposition, the Stasi was giving the people heart to keep demonstrating against them.

It would be a mistake, though, to see the Stasi as comic book villains, and this book is full of stories of people whose lives were ruined by it. The Stasi kept vile prisons with professional torturers, and had no compunctions about murder.

They also documented everything, in almost a parody of stereotypical Teutonic thoroughness. As the system collapsed around them they ran their shredders until they broke down, then sent agents into West Berlin to buy more. Eventually they just tore up the documents by hand and stuffed them in bags. The West German government, reluctantly, and after allowing the bags to deteriorate for five years, began a small effort to reassemble the documents by hand. It was, and remains slow work. From a Washington Post article of 1 November 2019, “The archivists have reconstructed more than 1.5 million pages contained in 500 sacks over the past 20 years. There are still around 15,500 more bags to go, stored in Berlin and sites in eastern Germany...A single sack can take an archivist as long as a year and a half to reconstruct, depending on how finely the documents are torn. Attempts to speed up the process with digital technology have stalled.”

You would think that with more powerful computers and advanced AI the problem of reassembling all the fragments could be automated, but that is not the case, and perhaps suspiciously not the case. The Stasi had penetrated West German society at all levels of government and the military, and many people in positions of power do not want incriminating documents released. My opinion is that as soon as the last powerful person who could be embarrassed by the contents of these documents is dead, the Germans will announce a breakthrough in re-assembly technology, and all of the documents will be made available in short order.

Few in the Stasi have been punished for the outrages they committed, and many of them have done well for themselves in the new Germany. “Stasi men are by and large less affected by the unemployment that has consumed East Germany since the Wall came down. Many of them have found work in insurance, telemarketing and real estate. None of these businesses existed in the GDR. But the Stasi were, in effect, trained for them, schooled in the art of convincing people to do things against their own self-interest.”

Even stranger, many former East Germans, lost in the fierce capitalistic competition of modern Germany, look back fondly on the GDR. There is even a neologism for it: Ostalgie, combining Ost (east) and nostalgia.

The author is an Australian who lived and worked in Germany for years and and writes with a sympathetic yet detached style. She is moved by the suffering of the victims, outraged by the whole terrible historical fact that was the GDR, and surprised by the general lack of interest in the forty years of the east-west split. Whatever democracy’s flaws, single party systems are always worse, whether they be political or religious, and the dark fate that befell those under communism should be a warning to us all to protect our rights.
Profile Image for Mauro.
63 reviews14 followers
April 19, 2020
"Ufficialmente la Repubblica democratica tedesca rispettava le istituzioni della democrazia. C'eramo procuratori distrettuali, il cui lavoro era amministrare la giustizia, e avvocati, il cui lavoro era rappresentare i clienti, e i giudici, il cui lavoro era formulare giudizi. C'eramo, almeno sulla carta, altri partiti politici oltre al Partito di unità socialista. Ma in realtà c'erano solo il Partito, e il suo strumento, la Stasi. I giudici spesso ricevevano istruzioni dalla Stasi, che a sua volta le riveva dal Partito - fino all'esito del giudizio e alla durata della pena. La commessione tra Partito, Stasi e giustizia andava dal basso verso l'alto: la Stasi, in concorso con i presidi delle scuole, reclutava gli studenti ubbidienti con una propensione appropriatamente leale allo studio del diritto. (...) Non c'era spazio perchè una persona potesse difendersi dallo swtato perchè tutti gli avvocati difensori e tutti i giudici ne facevano parte."

L'autrice, di origini australiane, si trasferisce in Germania qualche anno dopo la caduta del muro. Lavora in un'emittente televisiva e, a seguito di una lettera ricevuta, inizia ad incontrare una serie di persone che erano vissute nella Berlino Est per approfondire quel punto di vista quasi assente. Durante tutto il libro sono molte le vicende raccontate. Ne esce fuori un mosaico il cui disegno è quello di una nazione di cui il partito, attraverso la Stasi, aveva il pieno ed assoluto controllo. Uno stato in cui se non eri della "Ditta" eri un pericolo. All'interno di questo grande mosaico, ci sono le tessere rappresentate dalle storie dei "perseguitati", dei "controllori"; ci sono i luoghi degli interrogatori e delle detenzioni. Sono storie di persone in carne ed ossa, sono luoghi che prima del 1989 erano delle macchie bianche sulle cartine, non esistevano. Il mosaico ora è distrutto e questo libro tenta di ricomporlo così come le donne del puzzle continuano con pazienza a ricomporre i documenti dei fascicoli distrutti dalla Stasi per permettere ai "nemici" di avere qualche risposta.
Al termine della lettura non saprei dire se si tratta di un saggio, di un'ichiesta o di un romanzo. Di certo le storie sono reali e rappresentano uno spaccato della Germania Est e della vita sonno una sorveglianza strettissima. I personaggi sono uomini e donne comuni, uomini e donne appartenenti alla Stasi e informatori. Nei racconti vengono sfiorate persone importanti (dal capo della Stasi a Honecker). Come in ogni vicenda umana i confini sono sfocati, è difficile dare un giudizio di condanna sulle singole persone che sono parte di un sistema così rigido da lasciare poco scampo alle scelte individuali. L'autrice è brava a rendere scorrevole la narrazione con una prosa ricca di descrizioni e dialoghi. In definitiva credo sia un libro interessante che mette in luce il punto di vista di chi ha vissuto nella Stasiland (titolo originale del libro).
Profile Image for Maru Kun.
215 reviews486 followers
July 19, 2017
My main take-away from this book is that former Stasi operatives or Stasi informers aren't giving much away.

Most of the ex-Stasi who were interviewed for the book had already outed themselves for one reason or another and were already on the public record. The rest, at the time the book was written, were still lying low, despite there having been so many of them.

I was looking for more facts on the methods the Stasi used to control citizen's of the DDR, to help better identify those methods if ever used again, and less personal reflection on the injustice they caused. While there is plenty of anecdote around how individuals suffered under Stasi rule it's difficult to get an objective picture from this book how pervasive Stasi influence was on DDR society. However the book was certainly well written and an important contribution to a narrow field.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,080 reviews108 followers
March 1, 2020
This is a non-fic book by an Australian author, who visited East Germany in the late 1990s and made a score of interviews with both Stasi personnel and their victims. I read is as a part of monthly reading for March 2020 at Non Fiction Book Club group.

In my childhood in the USSR, East Germany was presented as almost a haven: access to western goods, higher wages. The country was the showcase for socialism. Like the rest of the Soviet bloc, it actually had a massive surveillance and oppression system. At the end, the Stasi had 97,000 employees—more than enough to oversee a country of seventeen million people. But it also had over 173,000 informers among the population. In Hitler’s Third Reich it is estimated that there was one Gestapo agent for every 2000 citizens, and in Stalin’s USSR there was one KGB agent for every 5830 people. In the GDR, there was one Stasi officer or informant for every sixty-three people. If part-time informers are included, some estimates have the ratio as high as one informer for every 6.5 citizens.

The stories of victims are horrific, people were definitely broken by the regime. For example, the hero of the first large witness story, Miriam, was at 16 incarcerated for 1.5 years for an attempt to cross the border. The experience affected her so that One day, years later, her husband Charlie was fooling around at home, playing the guitar. Miriam said something provocative and he stood up suddenly, lifting his arm up to take off the guitar strap. He was probably just going to say ‘That’s outrageous’, or tickle her or tackle her. But she was gone. She was already down in the courtyard of the building. She does not remember getting down the stairs—it was an automatic flight reaction. Charlie came out to coax her back up. He was distraught. She surprised them both with her tics in the first years they were together.

At the same time even compared with contemporary USSR (during Stalin’s period she could have been shot) there is a book Побег из Рая, in which a group of slightly older boys (18-22) cross the Soviet-Finn border in 1974. They were returned by Finns and the author got 5 years of psychiatric clinic with forced medication. And border crossing was part of two laws: 1-3 years of prison for “crossing” and 6-15 years or capital punishment for “flight abroad”, which was part of “high treason” article. So, it was a hell in GDR, but in other countries of the Soviet bloc it could have been even worse.

There are several interesting stories of Stasi men. In may surprise some readers, but after the fall of the wall for Stasi men if was easier to find a job than for an ordinary ossie. There is ‘ostalgie’ similar to cries for the ‘loss of the great country’ in the former Soviet Union. And quite a lot of Germans want just to forget this period of their history.
58 reviews29 followers
September 12, 2019
Take a walk through Berlin today and you'll have a job finding evidence that this was once a divided city. There's certainly a sizeable chunk of the Berlin Wall on Potsdamer Platz. But in the shadow of the futuristic Sony Centre it looks more like a modern art installation than a remnant of the Cold War. As time goes by, Berlin seems finally to be getting over the Wall.

But as Anna Funder discovered, the grim monument that once defined the city still looms large in many Berliners' minds. In what was once the eastern sector of the city, Funder gets into conversation with a with a toilet attendant, and asks if she has travelled since the changes. "Not yet," says the woman, " But I'd like to. Bali, something like that. Or China. Yes, China. You know what I'd really like to do? I'd really like to have me a look at that Wall of theirs."

In 1945, the East Germans exchanged one set of monsters for another. The puppet government installed by Soviet liberators turned the entire country into a psychiatric hospital. Inside this home for the bewildered, the schizophrenic inmates feigned contentment in a Marxist paradise,while enduring an Orwellian hell. Two armies kept things in check: one defended the country from outside attack, the other tackled the enemy within. It was the shameful legacy of this internal army - the Stasi - that Funder, an Australian journalist, set out to uncover.

In the German Democratic Republic, it sometimes seemed as if everyone was an informer. Spies were in the schools and factories, the shops and streets. A chance remark one day could land you in prison the next. Funder's journey through Stasiland uncovers stories of careers destroyed, families broken, lives ruined by state-sponsored nastiness.

Among the brave, reluctant heroes who railed against this tyranny was Miriam, a woman whose break for freedom put her in prison while still a teenager. Marriage to another free spirit brought Miriam happiness for a time. But then her husband too was imprisoned and tortured. The manner in which she discovered he was dead beggars belief. Years after the Wall came down, Miriam is still unable to achieve closure. The circumstances of her husband's death and doubts surrounding the whereabouts of his remains continue to haunt her.

As well as hearing stories from the victims of the Stasi, Funder also attracts the attention of the agency’s former officers. Clinging to their faded notions of self-importance, these spies who came in from the Cold War are eager to tell their stories: there’s the man who was given a pot of paint in 1961 and told to mark out the route of the Berlin Wall; the unrepentant Marxist whose weekly TV show fired anti-Western thunderbolts across the border; and the former spy who transferred his surveillance skills to the free market and became a private detective.

For all its bleak subject matter, Funder's book is not a depressing read. She has an informal, almost casual approach, injecting personal feelings and experiences into the story, along with vivid descriptions of her surroundings and the characters she encounters. And although she's not attempting a definitive history of East Germany, Funder can teach her readers much about the politics and ideology of a miserable state that had the nerve to call itself a Democratic Republic.

Some estimates suggest there was one Stasi informer for every six East German citizens, surveillance on a scale that even the Gestapo and the KGB couldn't have matched. Yet the heartening message from Stasiland is that even as cracks started to appear in the monolith, this massive intelligence machine failed to see the writing on the Wall.
Profile Image for نرگس.
Author 12 books79 followers
December 24, 2017
سرد و خاکستری و بی‌روح. این فضاییه که کتاب از برلین پس از فروپاشی دیوار توصیف می‌کنه و البته فضایی که در تمام مدت خواندنش بر خواننده حاکم میشه. از پس این غشای خاکستری میشه سیاهی رنج و درد مردم تحت حاکمیت یک نظام توتالیتر رو دید. کتاب عمدتا از خلال مواجهه با آدم‌های عادی و داستان اون‌ها روایت میشه، هرچند نویسنده ملاقات‌هایی هم با بعضی شخصیت‌های مهم تاریخی/هنری داره. طی این روایت اطلاعات خوبی هم از تاریخ معاصر آلمان و به ویژه تاریخ بلافصل پیش از فروپاشی دیوار برلین ارائه میشه.
این اولین کتاب غیرتئوریکی بود که ترجمه کردم. کتابی در ژانر نان-فیکشن که روایتش خیلی جاها به داستان تنه می‌زنه. برای من کار جدید و جالبی بود و در عین حال سختی خودش رو هم داشت، مخصوصاً که باید از زبان تخصصی و متکلف آکادمیک فاصله می‌گرفتم. سختی دیگرش توازی‌هایی بود که می‌شد بین بعضی از اتفاقات کتاب و تجربه‌ی زیسته‌ی خودم/خودمون برقرار کرد. شباهت‌ها اون‌قدر آزاردهنده هستند که شاید بار اضافی روی دوش خواننده‌ی ایرانی تحمیل کنند. هرچند در نهایت پیروزی با امیده :)
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