Stasiland Summary

Anna Funder

Stasiland

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Stasiland Summary

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Stasiland is a non-fiction account by Anna Funder of life in divided East Germany under the watch of the secret police, the Stasi. Told in a mixture of first-person memoir, reportage, and second-hand personal narratives from those both affected by and perpetrating the Stasi’s crimes, Stasiland gives a very human portrayal of life under a totalitarian regime.

Anna Funder, an Australian television producer who moves to Berlin in 1996, just a few years after the collapse of the wall, finds herself fascinated by the still strongly felt legacy of the Stasi on the nominally reunited country.

Anna meets Miriam Weber, who, at sixteen, tries to escape over the wall after becoming an enemy of the state for distributing pamphlets condemning the police’s mistreatment of protesters. She attempted her escape while awaiting trial, was caught, and imprisoned for 18 months. After her release she meets her husband Charlie, who himself is captured and dies in a Stasi prison.

She then learns that her landlord, Julia was watched by the Stasi due to her relationship with an Italian man. She finds herself covertly blocked from finding employment and, after getting raped right after the wall comes down, moves to San Francisco to escape the Stasi-induced trauma of her life in East Germany.

Anna also meets Frau Sigrid Paul, who after unsuccessfully trying to escape herself, becomes involved in an organization helping students escape East Berlin. Caught by the Stasi while her sick son languishes in a West Berlin hospital, Frau Paul refuses to inform on a friend, and is therefore blocked from seeing her son.

In light of these women’s stories, Anna takes out an ad in a paper seeking former Stasi officers and collaborators to interview and is overwhelmed with the response. In the course of her interviews, Anna finds that few of the former Stasi officers feel remorse, and many still cling to old values.

Anna interviews Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, who researched, wrote, and hosted “The Black Channel,” a series of weekly propaganda programs that vilified the West. Now seventy-nine, he still staunchly maintains his anti-western views and his commitment to communism.

Hagen Koch, the cartographer who drew the outline of the Berlin wall, tells his story of indoctrination and isolation from his own family. Koch’s father is forced into the Socialist Unity party in order to avoid further imprisonment, and must bring up Hagen with the party’s ideology in order to remain free. Thus indoctrinated, Hagen grows up as a “true believer” until his marriage, when he begins to question his beliefs. The Stasi refers to his wife as a “negative influence” and demand he leave her in order to get promoted. She is also coerced into leaving him by threatened charges of pornography that, if pursued, would have them separating her from her son. Hagen loses his job anyway after failing to report a visit from his father, and eventually remarries his wife after learning the truth. He is banned from attending his own father’s funeral due to the presence of a western relative. Hagen feels that he was betrayed by the Stasi despite his loyalty. He steals a commemorative plate awarded to his army unit, and refuses to return it after repeated requests. Koch clings to the plate as his act of defiance and autonomy, and feels it symbolizes the pettiness of the Stasi, who go so far as to establish a “Working Group on Plate Re-Procurement” to repossess it.

Anna’s friend, Klaus, presents another perspective. A member of a popular band in East Germany, his lyrics were critical of the East German government and the band was therefore banned and told they “no longer exist.” Gigs disappeared as did their recordings in the state record company’s catalog.

Herr Christian represents a non-ideologue. A border control agent, he never felt committed to the Stasi’s mission, but felt duty-bound to uphold their laws. Still somewhat obsessed with his former role, he now seeks work as a private detective, and appears to take his past very lightly when speaking with Anna, showing a lack of remorse or lasting damage, emotionally or professionally.

After her initial round of interviews, Anna is forced to leave Germany to be with her sick mother, and only returns to Berlin in 2000 after her mother’s death. She follows up with some of her subjects, including Hagen Koch, who works as a tour guide, explaining the history of the wall. He seems happy to relive the East’s past. Meanwhile, Julia has moved to San Francisco and is working in a feminist bookstore. She feels that they “honor their victims here” and therefore feels more at home than in Germany.

Finally, the book ends, at it begins, with a meeting with Miriam. While she seems more at peace, she still mourns that she feels she will never find out the truth about the death of her husband Charlie.

Funder’s very personal account of the lives of those affected by the Stasi showcases how fully totalitarian regimes can interfere with and ruin the lives of people on both sides of the ideological divide. And in this case, unfortunately Germany has not come to terms with its past, and very little justice has been brought for victims of the Stasi, whose alumni find their lives and ideology intact.