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Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

126 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1862075801
ISBN-10: 1862075808
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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

During its 40-year history, the German Democratic Republic--East Germany--was, with Soviet assistance, the perfect police state. The organ of surveillance within the GDR (as well as foreign intelligence activities) was the Stasi, which, better than any other modern secret police, had organized a large army of citizen informers. Australian writer Funder thoroughly documents that culture of domestic spying and its effects on a cross-section of East German society. To call the stories that she relates as Orwellian is rather an understatement; the fact that they are true alone goes beyond Orwell: the mysterious death of a husband while in detention, the sudden "nonexistence" of a rock star, a mother's separation from her critically ill infant. What the reader learns from these stories is that evil swings like a pendulum, from the banal to the surreal, but no matter where it is in the spectrum, it always leaves pain behind. Frank Caso
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862075808
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862075801
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,764,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Anna Funder is an Australian writter who found herself in Berlin several years after the Berlin wall and Communism in former GDR (German Democratic Republic; or DDR in the German language) collapsed.

Through personal stories of former East Germans, Anna tries to put together a mental pictures of what life in former GDR was like. And this mental picture is a stark, dark, oppressive, and paranoid collage of people's lives' stories.

One will learn that East Germany was 'the most perfected surveillance state of all time,' where there was one Stasi officer or informant for every 63 people. The book covers the national formation of the GDR regime and also discuss the cultural background of why Germans were willingly subjecting themselves to authority. The best torture method devised by the Stasi was sleep deprivation. With all this and more, the author makes the point that the regime would not have survived without the Soviet military muscle and presence.

The book also presents some light and funny trivia: the quasi-scientific method of 'smell sampling' used by the 'Firm' (Stasi), the East German silly dance style called 'Lipsi' and the corny or mind-numbing propaganda TV shows.

Interviewing people who lost loved ones in the evil regime's prisons, persons who taught counterintelligence classes for the Stasi, who worked as informants or undercover policeman, students who tried to escape across the Berlin Wall, and persons who are still believers in the 'proletarian' revolution and are nostalgic about the values of the former Socialist republic.

By reading this ecclectic biography collage you will learn about German cultural values, GDR political and idiological history, the Stasi (one of the most feared secret police organizations).
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
Stasiland is the former East Germany, a country where the Stasi, the secret police, spied on every inhabitant, kept files on everybody, and seemed all-powerful. Anna Funder has written about the Stasi in a way that sometimes seems like fiction, other times like memoir, and ultimately like an exceptionally readable history.

The Berlin of Funder's book is post-Wall Berlin, but it is as gray and paranoid as the Berlin of John le Carre's spy novels. Funder seems depressed throughout, and it is no wonder. She spends all her time interviewing former "Ossis," East Germans who were victims of the Stasi or who were former Stasi themselves. Even her irrepresible rock musician friend reveals that his band was declared "non-existent" by the Stasi. The secret police were so thorough that he cannot find any evidence that his group, which recorded several albums and was quite popular in the East, ever existed.

Through Funder, we hear from Miriam, who nearly made it over the Wall at age sixteen, but was caught, jailed, and blacklisted. Shortly after she married, her husband was arrested, then the Stasi showed up at Miriam's door to tell her that her husband had killed himself. She refused to believe the obvious lie and the subsequent funeral was a bizarre farce. Decades later, Miriam is still trying to make sense of it all, still searching for clues to explain what really happened.

Frau Paul tells of her newborn son whose East German doctors risked their careers by smuggling the infant to the West because it was his only chance to survive a life-threatening condition. Frau Paul was denied permission to visit her baby unless she agreed to help the Stasi trap an acquaintance of hers.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Hugh Claffey on June 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
Anna Funder is an Australian who, somewhat aimlessly, finds herself in
Berlin in the 1990s. Working in the media she takes a professional interest in gathering stories about East German and its all-pervasive security apparatus - The Stasi. She visits museums filled with Stasi memorabilia, seeks interviews with former agents and victims. The book is well written and evocative, it paints a realistic picture of everyday cruelty of the former regime - a wife put to her wits end trying to bury her husband who died in custody, families pressured to spy on each other and on friends - Funder quotes statistics which reveal that there was one Stasi officer for every 63 East Germans; Hitler's Gestapo had one agent for every 2,000. The cases of the victims are heartbreaking, the effects on their personalities of the harassment, surveillance and torture they endured lasts beyond the reach of the old regime, through the supposed liberation.
She is quite effective on the attitude of today's German society to Ossies (former East Germans), most former West Germans (Wessies) now feel that "they were Germans who had Communism for forty years and went backwards, and all they want now is money to have big TV sets and holidays... It was an experiment and it failed". Ossies on the other hand feel an amount of resentment that they now live in a society which is so unequal and relatively unsafe. This resentment has spawned a cynical nostalgia for the old East Germany - Ostalgia. This outcome is astonishing to the outsider, but Funder's book carefully outlines how this has come to pass, since the optimism of the day's when the Berlin wall collapsed.
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