Stasiland: True Stories from behind the Berlin Wall

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Overview

It's Berlin in the 1990s. A city split for forty years by the Wall is trying to knit itself back together -- a city where former Stasi men and their victims now pass one another in the street, and where, just under the surface, the Nazi past now lies buried. When Anna Funder hears of ordinary people who resisted the fearsome Stasi -- the Communist regime's secret police -- she sets out to investigate the extraordinary stories from the underbelly of the most perfected surveillance state of all time, the former East Germany. Funder finds Miriam Weber, imprisoned as a teenager after scaling the Berlin Wall, and Frau Paul, who never, ever wanted to be a hero. She visits the regime's cartographer, obsessed to this day with the Wall; she gets drunk with the legendary "Mik Jegger" of the east, rock star Klaus Renft, who was once declared by the authorities to "no longer exist." Then she finds former Stasi men, now coping with the end of their world -- men who spied on their families and friends, who irradiated people in order to keep track of them or stole pieces of their underwear to store in jars as "smell samples." A fiercely talented new writer, Funder has a novelist's eye for character and story. Stasiland is a lyrical, at times blackly funny look at courage, conscience and the extremes of what humans will do to one another.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"Its job was to know everything about everyone, using any means it chose. It knew who your visitors were, it knew whom you telephoned, and it knew if your wife slept around." This was the fearsome Stasi, the Ministry for State Security of the late and unlamented German Democratic Republic. Funder, an Australian writer, international lawyer and TV and radio producer, visiting Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, finds herself captivated by stories of people who resisted the Stasi-moving stories that she collects in her first book, which was shortlisted for two literary awards in Australia. For instance, Miriam Weber, a slight woman with a "surprisingly big nicotine-stained voice," was placed in solitary confinement at the age of 16 for printing and distributing protest leaflets; she was caught again during a dramatic nighttime attempt to go over the Wall. Filtered through Funder's own keen perspective, these dramatic tales highlight the courage that ordinary people can display in torturous circumstances. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this notable debut, Australian author Funder presents a fascinating investigation of an important issue in present-day Berlin, namely, the legacy of East Germany's pervasive secret police, the Stasi, who created the most perfect surveillance state of all time, and of those who had the courage to resist during the Communist regime. Funder, who became captivated by Berlin while working there in the 1990s, gathers stories of those with firsthand experience of the cruel Stasi mind-set during the Cold War. For instance, teenager Miriam Weber was imprisoned for attempting escape over the Berlin Wall, Frau Paul was denied access to her ill infant in West Berlin, and East German rock star Klaus Renft was declared by authorities to no longer exist. If these stories were the only ones Funder recounted, the book would lack balance. But here we also meet Stasi agents and informers, including Hagen Koch, the cartographer of the wall, and Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, a propagandist for the regime and a particularly odious example of the Stasi attitude. Although this is his first book, Funder writes with skill and style. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Janet Ross, formerly with Sparks Branch Lib., NV Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Sydney-based Funder’s impressive debut crisply renders her pursuit of East Berlin’s ghosts. When she was writer-in-residence at the Australia Center in Potsdam, the author became fascinated by the uneasy truce former East Germans kept with their recent Communist past, which was literally all around. The German Democratic Republic’s surveillance apparatus, run by the Stasi (secret police), was more pervasive than elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc; many people became informers, while others had their lives ruined for minor infractions. Funder befriended several survivors, such as Miriam, who was arrested at 16 in 1968 for anti-authoritarian pranks; fearing prison, she attempted to cross the Berlin Wall, served time, and was persecuted for years. (Eventually her lover died, mysteriously, in custody.) A couple the author met had nearly lost their sick child, who was at a better hospital in West Berlin; her landlady was barely able to acknowledge what turned out to be a history of twisted treatment by the Stasi. Similar trials are recalled with cocky humor by survivors like Klaus Renft, once a naïve underground rock star whose band provided youthful GDR residents with "something authentic and unauthorised." Funder also sought out ex-Stasi workers willing to tell their stories; she had a memorably bizarre encounter with Herr von Schnitzler, a despised pioneer of televised propaganda who defended the regime with undiminished vitriol. Funder shrewdly blends memoir elements with these personal histories and casts an attentive eye on the decrepit landscape with its haunting traces of the old regime, most dramatically expressed by the official effort to untangle the Stasi’s paper trail: an office ofso-called "puzzle women" working to restore shredded documents in an effort projected to take 375 years. The former GDR may be out of the news these days, but Funder’s fully humanized portrait of the Stasi’s tentacles reads like a warning of totalitarian futures to come. Colorful, intensely observed, well executed, with lots of black humor and disturbing undertones.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781862075801
  • Publisher: Granta Books
  • Publication date: 5/15/2003
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.18 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Map of Germany 1945-90
Map of Berlin Wall 1961-89
1 Berlin, Winter 1996 1
2 Miriam 10
3 Bornholmer Bridge 19
4 Charlie 31
5 The Linoleum Palace 47
6 Stasi HQ 54
7 The Smell of Old Men 67
8 Telephone Calls 76
9 Julia Has No Story 88
10 The Italian Boyfriend 98
11 Major N. 106
12 The Lipsi 118
13 Von Schni-- 129
14 The Worse You Feel 139
15 Herr Christian 148
16 Socialist Man 155
17 Drawing the Line 168
18 The Plate 177
19 Klaus 184
20 Herr Bock of Golm 195
21 Frau Paul 204
22 The Deal 213
23 Hohenschonhausen 222
24 Herr Bohnsack 235
25 Berlin, Spring 2000 245
26 The Wall 253
27 Puzzlers 262
28 Miriam and Charlie 270
Some Notes on Sources 283
Acknowledgments 287
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2007

    Stories of life in the GDR, the real-life Orwellian state

    When author George Orwell wrote Animal Farm and 1984 he wrote of the contemporary and future 'proletarian' dictatorships. The German Democratic Republic, more than any other state before or since, came the nearest to a state of perfected and complete absolute control over its citizens' lives. The author of Stasiland, Anna Funder, has done a suberb job of revivifying this state in her readers' minds through the personal stories of the GDR's inhabitants. I got this book for Christmas and had it read in three days, so good I never wanted to put it down. The book's chapters trace the lives of various GDR citizens, both those being oppressed and the Stasi personnel charged with terrifying the GDR's people into abject submission. In Soviet Russia there was one KGB agent for every 5830 people, in Nazi Germany one Gestapo agent for every 2000 people, but in the GDR there was one Stasi - or full-time informer - FOR EVERY 63 PERSONS (see p. 57)! Funder hears shocking tales of personal tragedy, bizarre - but true - stories of GDR logic, and personal justifications from ex-Stasi men themselves. One 15-year-old girl singlehandedly, without any prior planning(!), almost manages to escape over the Berlin Wall , getting within a couple meters of freedom. Another family is permanently separated from their seriously ill son for his first five years of life. And one woman's personal and career life is ruined when she refuses to submit to ideological control. The author also interviews some famous GDR personalities, such as musician Klaus Renft, the evil-spirited Karl Von Schnitzler, and Hagen Koch (who literally wrote the plan for the wall). She also interviews the puzzle people trying to piece back together the shredded Stasi files. And she also meets with Stasi agents, who for one reason or another, decided to join the 'dark side'. As I was reading the book, I couldn't help but become absolutely convinced that, despite the very publicized efforts of the German gov't to piece back together the Stasi files, in fact, German (and all other Eastern European) MODERN LEADERS WANT TO COMPLETELY OBLITERATE EVIDENCE OF THEIR OWN CRIMES DURING THE COMMUNIST REGIMES. The fact of the matter is that many of the former communist elite are still in power now and are using all their gov't influence to ensure they are never, EVER going to be outed! So, in reality, many of them have gotten away with murder and look set to lead comfortable lives into retirement. Many times throughout the book I sensed a continuing cover-up and obfuscation by former Stasi men. The German government's extremely feeble, half-hearted attempt to reassemble the Stasi files with a staff of 30 or so persons is an absolute farce! Funder calculates it will take them over 300 years to reassemble the files at this rate. With a budget in the billions of euros, it becomes patently obvious the German government's objective is to NOT reassemble the incriminating files. A person might even believe that the Stasi File Authority is headed by a person, Herr Raillard, who is secretly charged by gov't leaders with eliminating any damning evidence that is actually found. This isn't a surprise, as it is the same across the entire former Communist bloc. This is a great book with a wonderfully direct, realistic writing style. I hope Ms. Funder writes a sequel to the book. I would have liked to have seen some photos too, though. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in life in Eastern Europe.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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