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Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall [Paperback]

Anna Funder
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)

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Book Description

17 Jun 2004
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterwards the two Germanies reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. In a country where the headquarters of the secret police can become a museum literally overnight, and one in 50 East Germans were informing on their countrymen and women, there are a thousand stories just waiting to get out. Anna Funder tells extraordinary tales from the underbelly of the former East Germany - she meets Miriam, who as a 16-year-old might have started World War III, visits the man who painted the line which became the Berlin Wall and gets drunk with the legendary "Mik Jegger" of the East, once declared by the authorities to his face to "no longer to exist".

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (17 Jun 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862076553
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862076556
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 12.5 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 179,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Anna Funder's penetrating and dispassionate Stasiland really begins with one significant date: the year 1989. The Berlin Wall falls and the history of a country that had become a microcosm of the Cold War is changed irrevocably. With the hated symbol of the enforced division between East and West reduced to rubble, the two Germanys--East and West--are able to reunite; grey, depressed East Germany becomes a memory.

After the initial euphoria, the change was hard for the world to accept, but it was both exhilarating and unsettling for the denizens of the Soviet bloc state, who had lived under the brutal, paranoid regime of the secret police, the dreaded Stasi of the title. For the inhabitants of East Germany, there were some stark statistics: one in 50 East Germans had informed on a fellow citizen, and human beings behaved in fashions unthinkable just the space of a wall away.

The amazing stories that Anna Funder tells in Stasiland bring to life with extraordinary vividness both the dark and the more human sides of life in the former East Germany: a young girl who could have started World War III, the man who laid down the line that became the Wall. These and a hundred other tales (from both the recent past and the present, as Berlin still struggles with the legacy of history) make for a highly unusual book, the final effect of which is as life-affirming and positive as the destruction of the Wall must have been for those who watched. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


' a terrific act of life-giving to people who have lacked not just a voice but an audience’ -- Telegraph

‘A brilliant and necessary book about oppression and history...Here is someone who knows how to tell the truth’ -- Evening Standard Books of the Year

‘A journey into the bizarre, scary, secret history of the former East Germany that is both relevant and riveting’ -- Travel Books of the Year, Sunday Times

‘Brilliantly illustrates the weird, horrifying, viciously cruel place that was Cold War East Germany...' -- Evening Standard

‘Funder is a superb interviewer…she truly excels in the rendering of her sessions with former Stasi employees -- Sunday Times

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ordinary, contemporary decency 27 Nov 2009
Some of the reviews written above complain or find fault with Ms. Funders interjections or opinions during the course of her conversations with the people she meets yet I believe this adds very much to the charm and integrity of her account. She is reacting to the stories of people who lived under a regime that would have seemed incomprehensible to a girl born on the other side of the world (Australia, 1966) when the Wall had already been in existence for five years. It could have been something happening on another planet. It is significant, I think, that Ms. Funders never actually saw the Wall. It was gone by the time she got to Berlin. But the legacy of the Wall lived on in the damage it had done to the people imprisoned behind it and this is what her book is about. It is not a scholarly work with footnotes, nor is it a series of interviews conducted in English with an (unacknowledged) interpreter doing the donkey work which is what we have come to expect from our television superstars. This is not Gitta Sereny interviewing concentration camp commanders, nor even Hannah Arendt commenting on the 'banality of evil' as she witnesses the trial of Adolf Eichmann. No, this is a very different thing altogether. This is a young Australian woman of Danish descent (she thought that was close enough to "pass" as German, but it turned out it wasn't) who decided to study German as a kid to the bewilderment of her family. She liked the weird agglomerations of the language that made nuanced new words. She goes to Berlin and starts to meet people who lived under the DDR regime, already 7 years defunct by the time she gets there. That's where the stories come from. So she's judgemental. Why not? She can hardly believe what she is hearing. Read more ›
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History as a novel 26 Aug 2003
I read this book in order to help me gain a knowledge of life in Cold War East Germany. The book is a fascinating insight into the way the Stasi (State Secret police) affected everyone's lives. Citizens were manipulated into helping the Stasi, but it had many willing members too. The book follows the author as she meets those who have been affected by the Stasi. One woman's husband was taken away and presumably murdered for seemingly acting against the state and there are examples of those who were high-powered members of the Stasi who found it difficult to adjust following the Wall's collapse. Definitely recommended as the book is fascinating, though to be honest I didn't find it that useful as a history resource. An interesting read.
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74 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Investigative journalism and lyrical writing 24 Jun 2004
By A Customer
The former GDR is perhaps still to close to be history, and there doesn't seem to be many books out there on the subject. Anna Funder's "Stasiland" fills that gap, and does so beautifully. She evokes a lost country, where the grotesquely overfed intelligence service had spilled out into all areas of society. In the end, Stasi controlled - and in many cases ruined - the lives of just about everyone in the GDR.
The first chapter paints a brilliant (and rather funny!) picture of the dark absurdity of a dictatorship. It is amazing how bogged down in detail, how ridiculously self-important it became. The fake moustaches, the cameras hidden in flowery granny handbags seem to come straight of "The Avengers". But soon, the tone turns sombre, as we begin to grasp how this "rule of Marxisten-Senilisten" drained joy and choice out of people's life. I had to keep reminding myself that this is fact, not fiction, as the drama and poignancy builds like a novel.
The whole account is deeply personal. Funder alternates the analysis of her investigations with descriptions of her own film noir-ish life in Berliner pubs and stripped apartments. It appears that she combines her exploratory drive with great poetry and a real knack for story-telling: her language is always lyrical and atmospheric, creating a real sense of time and place. Bridging the gap between story-telling and journalism, Anna Funder has written a unique and beautiful book.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very mixed feelings 17 Nov 2011
I am one of very few westerners who lived and worked in the GDR (for two years from 1979) and I read this book in a spirit of curiosity: how on earth could an Australian arrive at any understanding of the place, especially since she is approaching it retrospectively, after the GDR ceased to exist? No doubt this book is a creditable piece of investigative journalism but there are problems.

Her agenda is to tell the stories of people who resisted the regime and suffered at the hands of the state security. This she does with sensitivity and in great detail and I do not doubt what she relates. But the impression created is that it was not possible to live in the GDR without experiencing this stress and hardship. This is where I regret very much that she had not herself lived there and experienced the good and ordinary things which could provide a counterbalance to the stories of pain she reports: those long tracts of life that consist simply of normality, of outings, get-togethers with family and friends, afternoons of leisure and idleness, playing sport, making music, the tedium of uninspiring workdays, the small but real everyday freedoms of a society without the pressures of the drive to make profits. To tell a story of unbroken oppression is to play to a western prejudice. In this I feel for my friends, former citizens of the GDR, who are constantly patronised by western attitudes which hold that, in a state where the Stasi was so active, people can have had no life worth living. Funder's book compounds this offence.

I found that living on the eastern side of the Wall threw into relief the ideological differences between the two systems which it divided.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Account of Life in the GDR
Having recently visited Berlin I become interested in understanding the recent history of the city. This account is well researched and written and sheds light on the how the... Read more
Published 4 days ago by Qantas
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for history buffs
Good for history buffs
Published 15 days ago by Peter Michael Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
very well written stories, eyeopener
Published 1 month ago by Katja Welton
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sobering Read
This is a very sobering book detailing the real life experiences of East Germans behind the Berlin Wall. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Neilybags
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book!
East Germany was perhaps the most hard line member of the communist block, as well as the most absurd. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Nathaniel Dean James
3.0 out of 5 stars Saves the best for first....
There are some truly compelling, horrifyingly fascinating and almost surreal episodes in here which make this book well worth reading (possibly even "necessary" reading for... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Doyen
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!
Wow, I had no idea what went on in the GDR & this book makes me want to find out more. Really easy to read but tragic.
Published 2 months ago by Cheekyboots
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing!
Read this book once - my daughter's copy - and found it compelling. Will never tire of reading it! Brilliant!
Published 3 months ago by Lin Freeman
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and shocking
I read Stasiland because I'm going to Berlin this week and wanted to know more about what I would see. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jen Balchin
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read
I bought this on kindle wanting to learn more about how life used to be for those on the East of Berlin. Read more
Published 5 months ago by sophie
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