Funder, Stasiland

Anna Funder, Stasiland:
True Stories from behind the Berlin Wall

(London: Granta Books, 2003)
288 pages. UCSB: [not available]

Book essay by Brieahna Cruse
March 15, 2006

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany since 1945
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2006

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About Brieahna Cruse (back to top)

I am a senior majoring in Global Studies, with a minor in Sports and Exercise Science. After graduation I am planning on attending grad school in Southern California to work on a masters degree of International Relations. Before taking this course, I had limited knowledge of German history. I had taken a few history courses before, but it was my recent experiences as an EAP student that encouraged me to learn more. I studied in Madrid, Spain and was fortunate enough to travel all over Europe. I fell in love with Germany and its people when I visited the cities of Cologne and Dusseldorf. I chose this book because the experiences of the people, especially the youth, living during the time of the Berlin Wall, as well as the Stasi, the secret police of East Germany, was very fascinating, intriguing, and very real.

AbstractAnna Funder

The German Democratic Republic, during its 40-year reign in power, created one of the most effective surveillance organizations of the era, the Stasi. The Stasi, also known as the secret police of East Germany, mastered the art of domestic spying with technologies such as their advanced scent capturing technique, and the use of the East German citizens as informers in their army of spies. The Stasi was so effective they had files on over 6 million East German citizens and maintained a ratio of 5.5 Stasi for every 1,000 citizens. In her book, Anna Funder describes stories of East German people, living every day under the watchful eye of the Stasi, never knowing whom to trust, whom to turn to in time of need, or who had joined the team of informers. Through her stories, she portrays the effects the Stasi had on the East German people and told of the hardships they endured and the sacrifices they had to make.


Book Essay (back to top)

The Stasi: Will I be Next?

In November of 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. After almost 30 years of division, the physical obstruction between East and West Germany was finally destroyed. But the two Germanys couldnít have been more different. In the book Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, author Anna Funder describes East Germany "like a secret garden, a place lost in time." Before the Wall, East and West were experiencing economic and political differences, tearing an already desperate nation apart. After almost three decades of isolation, each became increasingly different, but they each suffered similar economical and political hardships that were bestowed upon Germany. Funderís book focused on East Germany, during the time of the Wall, and the Stasi, the secret police of East Germany. This organization was responsible for doing whatever it took to control and "monitor politically incorrect behavior in East Germany." As if the looming shadows of the Wall werenít enough, living in Germany under the overpowering force of the Nazi dictatorship and under the intrusive eyes of the Stasi forced the German people to live each and every day of their lives in paranoia and fear.

The Stasi, also known as the secret police of East Germany, was founded on February 8, 1950. It was the main security and intelligence organization of the German Democratic Republic. "The Stasi was headquartered in East Berlin, with an extensive complex in Lichtenberg and several smaller complexes throughout the city. During their reign, the Stasi was widely regarded as one of the most effective intelligence agencies in the world." When founded, this organization was modeled after the Soviet MGB, also known as the Ministry of State Security. It was estimated that out of a population of 16 million, over 400,000 people actively cooperated with the Stasi and acted as informers. The Stasi maintained files on over 6 million East German citizens, knowing almost everything about them, including the clothes they wore, the people they met, the food they ate, details about family members, employment, and more.

The Stasi was also recognized for its immaculate attention to detail. All phone calls and mail from the East to West Germany were monitored, and if any suspicious activity was noted, the agency was notified and the involved people paid the consequences. All aspects of East German life were tainted. Country clubs, youth organizations, and womenís groups, places were people felt safe and free from the watchful eye of the Stasi, were filled with informers and spies. Funder told the story of a man named Klaus Renft, the East German version of an American Mick Jagger. He lived in the East and was a member of East Germanyís only rebellious rock band, the Klaus Renft Combo. The government tolerated the group and Renft until they felt that the groupís music and messages were becoming dangerous to the East German government and putting ideas into the publicís heads. The Stasi was summoned, and immediately Klaus Renft disappeared and his identity was completely erased. In reality he had been secretly exiled from East Germany, without notice to anyone. The Stasi declared that this man no longer existed and their problem was solved.

The Stasi used a variety of techniques to obtain information, track down suspects, and to make people disappear. For example, the Stasi practiced a technique known as "scent collecting." They would obtain articles or clothing or scraps of something that they believed contained the scent of the suspected person, in order to identify them at the scene of a crime. Then they would seal these scents in jars and use dogs to track down the people they were after. The Stasi also believed it legal and necessary to use any method possible to obtain information and continually practiced blackmail and torture in order to acquire the information they needed. It is believed that these abuses of civil rights and abuses against humanity led to the 1989 demonstrations in Leipzig, which in turn led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today, anyone who was involved in the Stasi as an officer is banned from police work in Berlin and is looked at much like a criminal of war. But during the era of the Wall, the Nazi dictatorship, and the watchful eye of the secret police, the Stasi was believed to be "the most comprehensive internal security operation of the Cold War."

While the Stasi was a very powerful, active, secret agency, it wouldnít have been as successful without the participation of the informers. It is estimated that the Stasi had over 400,000 East German citizens acting as informers or civilian spies, making it almost inevitable that one of your friends or acquaintances was working for the secret police and watching your every move. An informerís job was to simply go about their everyday business, all while being very aware and alert of their surroundings, neighbors, friends, and families. If an informer noticed some details or felt suspicious that a fellow East German was behaving politically incorrectly, they informed the Stasi, who then took care of the problem.

The East German people feared the secretive Stasi and wanted to do anything possible to escape harm, torture, or even disappearing forever. The Stasi offered civilians a chance to be involved with the secret police agency, providing them with security and safety in return for information. Most people immediately took this opportunity, selling themselves and their friends and families out, but still others resisted. Oftentimes the choice wasnít theirs to make and the Stasi used blackmail, torture, and threats to force people to join forces. Funder told another tragic story of a woman named Sigrid Paul. Paul was a dental assistant in East Germany, when her infant son fell ill and was taken away to a hospital in West Germany, for better medical attention. She wasnít allowed to cross and thought she would never see her son again until the Stasi offered her a deal she could not pass up. In return for any information she acquired and the promises that she would inform the police of any activity among her friends, acquaintances, patients, or family that was suspicious, she would be granted permission to go to West Germany to see her son. Paul was torn, but in the end decided that if working for the Stasi would allow her to reunite with her lost son, she would make the sacrifice.

Until 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and enraged German citizens overran the Stasi headquarters, the East German people lived every day knowing that they were being watched. One aspect of the Nazi dictatorship was still in full force, and even though it was slowly starting to dwindle, the invisible hand of communism was still holding the East German citizens down. Between the Berlin Wall, the Nazi dictatorship, and the Stasi, every day was a challenge to survive. Throughout her book, Funder eludes to the public and their feelings of being trapped, without human rights, caged like animals, and living in fear, never knowing what the next day would hold. They felt oppressed by the dictatorship, shut in by the wall, pressured by the Stasi to join as an informer, and hopeless that this era of secrets and lies would ever end.

In reality, the East German people never knew whom they could trust, because their family members or closest friends could have sold out and joined the Stasi. If they had hopes of escaping to the West or plans to flee Germany, any mention of these ideas to the wrong person could result in prison time, disappearance, or other consequences. If they were discovered, they could be tortured and threatened until they disclosed all of the information, such as who else was involved, were these people from the East or the West, who was funding the operation, did they have support from the West, etc. Once all of the information was extracted that the Stasi felt necessary, the person could be imprisoned, erased from existence, or possibly offered a position within the Stasi, often saving the personís life.

Imagine always having to watch what you said, being aware of your surroundings, watching who you talked to, hung out with, worked for, etc. The Stasi affected every aspect of life, because they were everywhere, knew everything, and probably had someone informing for them that knew you. Imagine always living on edge, never knowing whom you could trust, not even your own family. Miriam Weber, the woman who prompted Funder to write her book, experienced life under the Nazi dictatorship, under the shadows of the wall, and beneath the watchful eyes of the Stasi. She was imprisoned as a teenager for attempting to scale the Berlin Wall. Then later on in life, her husband mysteriously disappeared and was declared dead by the Stasi. Miriam was left widowed and without any knowledge of her husbandís whereabouts, why he had been captured, if he was truly dead, and where his body was. She was devastated, frustrated, angry, sad, and alone, without any idea of what truly happened to the love of her life. Her husbandís disappearance remained a mystery forever.

During this period of German history, Germany was divided; the Berlin Wall stood looming over both sides, dividing the East from the West. The German people on both sides were dealing with economic, political, and social pressures, also while living under the overpowering force of the Nazi dictatorship. All of Germany and its people were suffering from problems and hardships, but the East German citizens lived side by side with the most "effective intelligence agency in the world." While the Stasi, or secret police, in itself was a large organization, it was the participation of German citizens that made their complete operation possible. The citizens that did participate with the Stasi gave up their acquaintances, friends, and even families, all in hopes of a better life for themselves. Others who refused to help the Stasi lived every day with raised alertness of their surroundings, the people they trusted, and what they said concerning politics, Germany, and the Wall.

This was an era where the citizens of East Germany lived in paranoia, never knowing if today would be their last day. Anna Funder, the author of Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, was able to create a book, from personal accounts and recollections from people who survived the Stasi and this epic of fear and confusion in Germany. The East German citizens lived in cohabitation with the Stasi, the informers, and the daily feelings of paranoia and fear. With the Stasi lurking around every corner, the citizens of East Germany feared the burning question, "will I be next?"


Bibliography and Links (back to top)

Additional Sources

  • Coleman, Sarah. "Adventures in Stasiland." Worldpress.org (16 June 2003). 13 Feb. 2006. www.worldpress.org/Europe/1199.cfm
    Interview with Anna Funder and book review
  • Funder, Anna. "Bibliography Resource Center and Book Reviews." 23 Jan 2006. http://galenet.galegroup.com
    Book review of Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

Published Reviews of Funder

  • Taylor, Charles. "Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall. The logic of Illogic. Powells.com Review-A-Day (7 June 2003). 24 Jan. 2006. www.powells.com/review.
  • Funder, Anna. "Reviews." Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall. 5 May 2003. 23 Jan. 2006. http://reviews.publishersweekly.com.

Websites

  • "Exploring Stasiland." The Fifth Estate: Media Analysis by RMIT Journalism (30 July 2002). 15 Feb. 2006. http://fifth.estate.rmit.edu.au/2004-06stasi.php
    This is a very interesting web site with an interview with Funder as she talks to students in a literary journalism course. It gives insight to how the book was written, provides information about Germany, and the research Funder conducted for this book.
  • "All Lights Out in the GDR." PopMatters.com (26 June 2003). 14 Feb. 2006. http://www.popmatters.com/books/reviews/s/stasiland.shtml
    This web site goes into more depth about the GDR, the involvement of the Stasi, and their effects upon the East German citizens. It also discuses Funderís book.
  • Koehler, John. "Stasi: The Untold Story of the Secret German Police." New York Times on the Web: Books (Westview Press) (10 Aug 2003) 15 Feb. 2006
    www.nytimes.com/books
    This web site simply is a good source for historical information concerning the Stasi, its creation, and facts about what they did.
  • "Stasi." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. (2001-2006). 15 Feb. 2006.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stasi
    This web site also provided information about the founding of the Stasi, the key players and officers involved, dates, and more historical information.

Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.


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