Remembering What Came Before The Wall

A wonderful roundup of Berlin Wall articles by the inestimable Arts and Letters Daily yielded this gem, a peek into the files of the Stasi, the East German secret police. The banality of the details in those files (documented beautifully in the brilliant film The Lives Of Others) still sends chills down the spines of those who read them.

Herbert Ziehm, who now heads up the department of requests for the Birthler Authority — which manages the Stasi files — said that the East German spooks also took notes on details that smacked of bourgeoisie. Ziehm, an East German, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that a look into his own file revealed that "the Stasi were very intrigued as to why my wife could drive and had a car even though she was a housewife." He added: "They were also fascinated by the fact that we were teetotallers [sic] and non-smokers. While after 20 years you can still laugh at the absurdity of it all, you always have to remember that people were getting arrested for the tiniest things."

Tiny misunderstandings could lead to arrest. (An agent mistook the English term, "mail box" for "Mehl box" — a box of flour.) Imagine being watched, spied on, every minute — what movements, what jokes, what expressions, could lead to disaster.

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