Has anyone read Stasiland?(27 Posts)
By Anna Funder.
I don't usually read non-fiction, but having just finished All That I Am by the same author, I thought I might try her earlier book.
All That I Am tells the story of a small group of anti-Nazi German refugees who fled to London when Hitler seized power, and their attempts to continue a campaign against the Nazis although hampered by legal restrictions on political involvement.
It's a fictionalised version of the truth and not a light read, but I learned a lot I hadn't known before about the consequences of appeasement on the lives of individuals at the time. Left me wanting to know more.
I read Stasiland some time ago and really enjoyed it.
Sorry, Nullius, I see you are in Berlin <note to self: read posts properly> Whereabouts?
We live, without giving too much identifying detail, in the wilds of southern Thüringen... before that many years in (west) Berlin interrupted by a stint in Schwaben. Dh is from Brandenburg (the town). Are you in Berlin? We still visit quite often - dc2 was born there, dc1 grew up there between 2 and 6yo and we have lots of good friends there as well as ILs. Leaving was one of the harder things I've done in my life
FIL was in the NVA and dh does direct an 'Abmarsch' at the dc occasionally I can't help applying that phrase 'Gnade der späten Geburt' to him - knowing him, if he had reached adulthood pre-Wende he would either have ended up hopelessly entangled in the system like his father, or in opposition.
I've heard quite a few stories since coming here of people being prevented on political grounds from doing things - one friend, who came from a medical family, was told at 14 or 15 she wouldn't be allowed to study medicine because of her 'bourgeois' background. She worked as a cleaner for a while, became a nurse and then, after the Wende, did study medicine and is now a GP. I find her tenacity inspiring but am almost disturbed by the matter-of-factness with which she recounts all this.
Ooh, Poppy, where do you live, if not eastern Berlin? Am v. curious. You CLEARLY get on better with people from the DDR if you married one! Yes, the 'keeping your head down' mentality was exactly what I meant. It's an important idea, because people in the 'free West' like to con themselves that if they'd been in the East growing up, they'd have all been protesting for freedom etc, which is rubbish. The people who engage in protest now in the West - for human rights, against the politicians/police/poverty/immigrants/right-wingers etc, are the ones who would also have protested in the East, perhaps, but the majority of people posting here would have just 'kept their heads down' and got on with things.
Your DH was lucky if the Wende came when he was still in his teens - one of our best friends was a bit older and did three full years in the NVA, and he still has a bit of a military turn of phrase (stands the kids in a line and tells them Abteilung Marsch!). And another friend said the wrong thing to the wrong person while doing a Praktikum and got banned from studying what she wanted, so she ended up studying theology because it was the only subject the authorities didn't care about.
What Nullius said. (I live in the former East, was in Berlin for years and am married to a former East German <outs self>).
FromEsme, I can well imagine how some people who grew up in the DDR would not believe some of the accounts in the book - I'm thinking in particular of the treatment of the young girl who tried to escape, which, for those who haven't read it yet, is one of the more harrowing sections and really quite hard to read. They had, wilfully or otherwise, no contact with or awareness of this sort of thing. Dh grew up in a very conformist family and experienced the Wende as a real rupture (fortunately he was still in his teens). They knew the DDR as a state governed by product shortages and restrictive policies, but overall a place where you could, if you kept your head down and spouted what was expected of you at periodic intervals, get on with your life, have a stable job, bring up children, etc. It was only those who were unwilling to pay that price of keeping their head down that experienced what the state was capable of . and not all of them experienced that in equal measure. But terrible things undoubtedly happened.
I'm possibly more invested in the subject matter than some, having lived in Berlin for the last twenty years and dealt with people on both sides of the divide - victims of the Stasi and Stasi employees - in that time. I did think the book was good (although it was given to me - wouldn't have paid full price either), but these kind of things inevitably fail to address the issue that a huge number of people in the DDR were reasonably OK with it - they weren't taken in by the propaganda, weren't thrilled by the deprivation and lack of democracy, but neither were they motivated to leave, either by an attempted escape or by making an application. They were however pretty much taken in by western propaganda promising them what seemed like untold riches if they united with the West, and were naturally bitterly disappointed when capitalism turned out a bit more complicated than that. Many parts of the countryside are now a wasteland, inhabited solely by the unemployed, unemployable and old people.
I remember once teaching a English class, and it became clear from one student's answers that he must have been a Stasi employee (a full-time employee rather than an inofficial informant), yet he had done really well out of the Wende (fall of Wall) and had a great job with fancy car - you can imagine the atmosphere in that classroom, with several other unemployed people facing him.
DH works in what used to be East Germany (the state of Brandenburg surrounds Berlin, so it's quite easy to access from here) and is employed by the state. When he was applying he had to undergo a check that he hadn't been a Stasi employee or informant either, even though he's Irish - it's compulsory for all new employees there. Still. Very weird place.
Strangely, DH and I often get on much better with people who grew up in the DDR than those who were in West Germany - they seem more down to earth, less arrogant.
I thought it was a light read- not in the way that "oh it's so below me"- but she brought so much of her own story into it, I just wanted to say, how about using some of that research you must have done at some time! being unfair of course, it's pop history, but I've read quite a few books like that on the topic (vagueish Berlin Wall/East and West Germany etc) and I was a bit disappointed. Glad I didn't pay full price for it. I think maybe you should read it first of all, if you're just getting into that time. Try Frederick Taylor- very bitesize and reads like a story almost.
Am reading William Taubman's biog of Khrushchev atm- now that's a brilliant book on that sort of kind of note- well, it was during his time as PM anyway.
I read Stasiland a couple of years ago and it is definitely one I'm hanging onto (most paperbacks get sent straight on to the charity shop). I've just bought All That I Am on Kindle, but not started it yet. Stasiland was fascinating, it did seem far fetched in places but then it is so far removed from the reality of my life that it is hard to say that it could not be true as the DDR was such a closed state. When you think how far things have come since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is quite extraordinary that all of this is such recent history.
I too have no connection with any of it, but grew up in the 70s when so many countries were firmly hidden behind the Iron Curtain, this period has always fascinated me.
Loved it. I'm in the reverse position, in that I just bought All That I Am because I loved Stasiland so much and am desperate to read more by Anna Funder. I have no particular connection with either Germany or the period, but it was recommended to me by a German-Australian couple I met on a flight to Barcelona about five years ago, and I just couldn't put it down.
Yes, read it and loved it. I did a German degree, and it was a part of the history element that was only skimmed over (sadly). I found it fascinating.
Would definitely recommend it too, really compelling.
Love it! I read it as slowly as I could to savour it. I love reading about the DDR.
OK, I am definitely reading Stasiland next! When I finish my Fred Vargas French crime book.
Agree that The Lives of Others was excellent, and I may give Goodbye Lenin a try. It looks more light-hearted I think?
Caerlaverock have to ask do you live near the castle of the same name? It's a fantastic building.
My friend grew up in Dresden, her parents were imprisoned for a year for trying to leave and then expelled when the were released, she lived with her grandmother for 2 years while they tried to get her out too. She reckons it is a pretty good account.
Really? That's a bit disappointing!
I found it interesting but several friends who grew up in the DDR said parts of it were nonsense and over-dramatic.
There are some good films about the time as well, like Lives of Others and Goodbye Lenin.
I enjoyed Stasiland -echo what everyone else says about it being interesting and heartbreaking in turns
Queen - I read the moment but really didn't get on with it and I usually enjoy Douglas Kennedy and anything to do with Berlin
lived there for a while and am a bit obsessed
OP, I could have written your post. Just finished All That I Am and am now looking at Stasiland.
I kept switching between All That I Am and my computer, searching names and events to see what was real and what fictionalised and to find more background. I learnt so much about Germany between the wars.
Yes it is very interesting.. Got it after trip to Berlin once.
I've very nearly finished All that I Am and am wanting to read Stasiland next too. Watching this with interest!
I agree All that I Am isn't an easy read - the first few chapters befuddled me a bit - but now I love it. It's really made me aware of the many non-Nazi supporting Germans, their campaigning and how many obstacles were placed in their way. Fascinating stuff.
Interesting book, I enjoyed it. It portrayed the sense of menace very well.
Another vote for Stasiland. I'm just reading Douglas Kennedy's The Moment which is largely set in 80s Berlin. The film 'The Lives of Others' is brilliant.
Definitely worth a read if you are interested in that period of German history. Shocking what was going on...
It is awesome. Heartbreaking and well researched.
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