Stasiland by Anna Founder is a look at a country and culture which existed only from the end of WW2 to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I confess that I didn’t know very much, if anything, about East Germany and how its people lived and this book is certainly an eyeopener.
The feature of East Germany which the author concentrates on is the secret police or Stasi. The Stasi built files on most of its citizens and used informers for information. Informers were coerced or encouraged into the role and East Germans had no idea who they could trust (the answer was virtually nobody). The Stasi were invested in keeping the culture and society static, reducing influence from elsewhere, reinforcing the regime’s messages of unity, and preventing any form of disorder. They did this by fear and they were very successful at it.
This book is told in a number of stories of people in the former East Germany who the author interviews. These vary from victims of the Stasi to informers and even to ex-Stasi members themselves. The stories are varied and give a snapshot into what it must have been like to be an ordinary person in this repressive country, fearful all the time of the consequences of your actions.
Although the author gives facts about the history of this time this book is not meant to be a definitive account but to use personal stories to illustrate typical experiences. Some of them are very sad and most will make you very angry on behalf of the victims – the consequences of what happened still affects people.
This is an interesting book and it is well told. The author takes us to important places in the history of the Stasi and even into the museums which now exist. She lived in Eastern Germany and can give a personal view on the places she visits and the people she meets. The book is accessible and not very long but very illuminating. I’m glad I read this.