Der Spiegel reports: One day in September 1987, the phone rang at the headquarters of the Volkspolizei, East Germany’s police force, in the town of Döbeln, not far from Dresden. On the other end of the line was the voice of an unknown man.
“Good evening. I have some information for you. Grab a pen!”
“Ms. Marianne Schneider is traveling on Wednesday, Sept. 14, to West Berlin for a visit. She doesn’t intend to return.”
“And who are you?”
“You would like to remain anonymous?”
“What is the basis for your information?”
“She said so, to her closest friends.”
Then, the mysterious caller hung up. And Marianne Schneider [not her real name] had a problem. Officials immediately revoked her travel permit and began monitoring her phone and mail in addition to questioning her neighbors and friends.
This story is one of spies and informers of the kind that were largely ignored by historians of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) until recently — because they were spies and informers that were not connected to the Stasi, as East Germany’s feared Ministry for State Security was popularly known. Instead, they were totally normal citizens of East Germany who betrayed others: neighbors reporting on neighbors, schoolchildren informing on classmates, university students passing along information on other students, managers spying on employees and Communist bosses denouncing party members.
Up to now, the broad network of so-called “unofficial informants” (IMs) maintained by the Stasi has dominated the popular view of East Germany’s surveillance state. Files full of IM reports became indispensable sources for Stasi victims, politicians, historians and journalists who sought to learn more about either their own personal pasts or about DDR spying practices.
By contrast, audio tapes belonging to the Volkspolizei were largely ignored, as were written testimonials from almost every area of East German society. Government agencies, political parties, associations, companies, universities, cultural institutions: Everywhere, people reported incriminating information about those around them. [Continue reading…]