'Re-reading East Germany’: The Literature and Film of the GDR


Alison Lewis (University of Melbourne, Australia)

Tinker, Tailor, Writer, Spy: Literature and the Stasi

This chapter will focus on the troubled relationship between literature and the Stasi or the ‘Ministry for State Security’ (MfS) both before and after 1989. It will start with an overview of the Stasi’s investment in the arts and, more specifically, in the production of literature. It will examine the impact of secret policing on writers and publishing in diachronic and synchronic fashion. By taking a couple of case studies such as Reiner Kunze, Jürgen Fuchs and Wolf Biermann it will demonstrate the extraordinary lengths that the Stasi went to in order to police intellectuals so as to gain maximum control over their artist expression. My aim is to provide readers with insights into the workings of the Stasi from the perspective of the writers who were its victims (such as Christa Wolf) and its ‘perpetrators’ or collaborators (such as Sascha Anderson) and attempt to break down a strict dichotomy of villains and victims. The second half of this chapter will be devoted to the Stasi as theme or figure in writing. Little has been written about the tracks that the Stasi left on the surface or texture of texts, that is, at the level of content, narrative and character. In many ways the Stasi was the ‘elephant in the room’ that everyone knew was there but no one dared to mention. The Stasi, it will be postulated, was indeed a presence in many texts, albeit a suppressed and marginal presence, a ghostly or phantom-like presence in a number of works such as Uwe Johnson’s Mutmaßungen über Jakob, Stefan Heym’s Collin, Irmtraud Morgner’s Amanda: ein Hexenroman, Stefan Heym’s Ahasver, the poetry of Sascha Anderson and Rainer Schedlinski and even in a few works by Christa Wolf (such as in Kassandra).

The final part of this chapter will be devoted to the idea that the Stasi is ironically enjoying an ‘afterlife’ after 1989 in the very worlds of fiction and film that were previously its targets. This ‘life after death’, is rather surprisingly, given its phantom-like existence prior to 1989, proving to be astonishingly vivid and rich in detail. Here it will be argued that there are two main forms of this ‘life after death’: an autobiographical, testimonial literature and a fictional literature. The impetus of the first literature is demystificatory and its function largely therapeutic. The testimonial writing is in the main autobiographical and makes elaborate use of archival material from the Stasi files after they were opened in 1992. Important exceptions will be examined such as the autobiographies of writers who have come into contact with the Stasi, who make no use of the archives (Monika Maron and Sascha Anderson). In these examples of literature about the Stasi, the Stasi is anything but a detailed, concrete, easily locatable presence, remaining instead the shadowy, highly mystified presence it was prior to 1989. The story of the Stasi’s emergence as a theme in fiction is rather different. A number of texts will be examined (Hans Joachim Schädlich’s Stasi novel Tallhover, Thomas Brussig’s Helden wie wir and Wolfgang Hilbig’s Ich) that attempt to write the Stasi into literary history. The focus will be on analysing how they tackle the genre question by experimenting with the Bildungsroman and the spy novel as well as with the traditions of existentialism and the absurd that were suppressed in the GDR. Other treatments of the Stasi will be analysed like Uwe Saeger’s Die Nacht danach und der Morgen and Brigitte Burmeister’s Unter dem Namen Norma, both of which offer novel perspectives on the Stasi in terms of its deformation of identity and destruction of trust and community. This chapter will conclude by examining more recent novels like Ingo Schulze’s Adam und Eva and some West German writers’ reflections on the Stasi, such as Günter Grass’ Ein weites Feld and Ralf Rothmann’s Feuer brennt nicht.