Review: Stasiland – Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall – by Anna Funder


The Stasi were the brutal secret police in the GDR (German Democratic Republic) or East Germany. After the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, East and West Germany once again became reunited. Funder is an Australian journalist who, in this award-winning book, explores the Stasi at work and recounts through various East German subjects some of the perils of the secret state and its surveillance apparatus. Although a lot of evidence was destroyed in Stasi bureaus, due to the swift nature of the collapse of East Germany after the Berlin Wall fell, there exists a great deal of paper evidence documenting much of the Stasi’s work. For even that evidence that was shredded, there are organisations that in a jigsaw like manner, sift through shreds, recompiling documents and useful information. Often Stasi victims had their lives and their family’s lives ruined when they were labelled enemies of the State. Often confessions after torture had to be fabricated and much of the Stasi actions seems very irrational especially when we look back from a post-GDR modern world. Former East German citizens explore Stasi files for details of their lives, trying to find out exact reasons why they may have been denied employment opportunities or seeking out missing relatives. One of the most eccentric characters is famous musician, Mik Jegger’ who was oppressed and sort of disappeared when he fell foul of the Stasi authorities. Frau Paul was separated from her baby who had been undergoing medical treatment in West Germany just as the Berlin Wall sprung up. Miriam became embroiled in trouble as a teenager and made a brave attempt escape at traversing the Wall which unfortunately failed. Author Funder gets to meet many former Stasi officers who are bizarre characters, often nostalgic of their former glories and who reveal a twisted logic to their often disturbing work. From TV celebrity propagandists to stein-swigging pub locals, these Stasi men are remnants of a forgotten past.
The book is full of lovely anecdotes and shows us a side of communist life that seems so surreal in our post- Cold War modern world. Many tales are sad and dark but also enlightening from an historic perspective and as such this book is an important addition to understanding the true history of life behind the Iron Curtain.

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