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On the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is hard to imagine that the German Democratic Republic ever existed. On the day before the wall fell, it was hard to imagine it could ever end.

Younger readers may not appreciate just how impenetrable the wall seemed. If you were behind the wall, you stayed behind the wall. There were no east European visitors to the west, and precious few western visitors to the east. Of all the eastern bloc nations, East Germany seemed to be the strictest, most monolithic of the lot. The wall was their public face. When the wall fell, the Federal Republic of Germany quickly subsumed its eastern counterpart; there were stories of poverty and skinheads, but the history of the GDR was quickly wiped from both books and minds.

So it is interesting to read Anna Funder’s account of time spent living in the former GDR in the 1990s, meeting some of the people whose lives had been affected by the Ministry for State Security – or Stasi as it was commonly known. It is clear that Funder has a particular agenda – that the Stasi were monstrous and that the socialist system was an abomination – but through the people’s stories, a more subtle picture emerges. We see a government that was bound by rules and protocols that sometimes applied. We see a multi-party democracy that was encouraged to exist as long as it was ineffective. We see a population that had a sense of fair play and, even within the socialist system, was willing to challenge and push boundaries. We also saw a border that was more permeable than many people thought, with annual trade conventions bringing western visitors; day trippers through Checkpoint Charlie; and dissident easterners sold to the west for hard currency. The baddies – Erich Honecker and Erich Mielke (Head of State and Minister of State Security respectively) are brought to life and seen as real people with real personalities rather than just faces on posters and posed photographs.

The strongest story by a long distance is Miriam, a young woman who got into trouble for political activity whilst still at school. Her story continues throughout the book. There are other characters, some memorable and others less so. Funder’s landlord Julia had her own story to tell – a sort of Miriamesque story. There were others who had been Stasi employees or casual informants. Some were repentant, others defiant. Some characters had made the adjustment to the new world order successfully; others had struggled. My favourite, though, was the East German radio commentator Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, notorious for his defence of shoot to kill policies for escapees and still predicting a revival of the socialist state despite being unable to show his face in public.

Some readers have criticised Funder’s gonzo approach to the book. She is very much in stage centre; the book is as much about Funder’s journey of discovery as it is about those she discovered. It’s a matter of judgement, but the balance feels right. Funder’s experience of brown lino, concrete walls and nights in the beer cellars adds a depth and colour to the stories. It creates a narrative drive that makes the book flow and feel less like a parade of shocking facts. It also allows the insertion of an editorial direction; it lets Funder explain the wider political context; events of national importance or historical significance without clumsily placing them in the mouths of her interviewees.

If I do have a beef, it is that sometimes the editorialising is take too far and conclusions are set out in black an white when they might have had a stronger impact if readers had been able to figure them out for themselves.

Stasiland is as successful a collection of personal narratives as I can remember reading. The subject matter is inherently interesting and shocking; the field is largely unexplored elsewhere; the structure works well and the writing is engaging.
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on 2 June 2017
This was a 'follow up' as having read the similar publication "Stasi State or Socialist Paradise - the GDR & what became of it" I was not satisfied, as my review of that book makes clear. I wanted to learn more about life within the GDR, a little of which I had experienced, including my wife who was from a family divided by the 'Iron curtain'. 'Stasiland' is just that - a series of vignettes derived from interviews with residents & former officials of the GDR. The author is not German, which may or may not be relevant, but is not as overtly biased as the other publication above, which is a paean of praise for socialism from UK 'left-wingers'. So for me "Stasiland" is closer to my image & experiences of GDR life. Again, I recommend the German film "Bornholmer Strasse" a post unification tragic-comedy of how the border gate was opened in November 1989. This film gives the real feeling of the culture & atmosphere of the time. The author's style is more 'jerky' than flowing prose, but it fits well into the situations described. Highly recommended - read this one in preference to the the other. George Orwell's 1984 was oh so close to the mark!
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on 7 January 2015
After watching the film, "The Lives of Others", I became interested in ordinary people's lives in the former East Germany (GDR).

In order to maintain the Communist Party's dictatorship, the Stasi, the state security services (or political secret police), exerted complete control on the lives of the citizens who unfortunately happened to be living in the eastern half of the country when WWII ended. Their surveillance was pervasive and thorough. Anyone who opposed the regime was harassed, imprisoned, tortured, murdered or, if lucky, "sold" (for a fee) to West Germany. Also, the Stasi used a very large number of informers who either willingly or unwillingly collaborated with the authorities by informing on their neighbours, friends and colleagues.

The author of the present book, while living and doing research in former East Berlin in the 1990s, interviewed a number of people - both victims of the Stasi's suppression and former Stasi officers. The stories told by the victims are harrowing, and the author's narratives are often very moving. The final chapter of the book is about the author's visit to one of her earlier contacts who appears to have come to terms with her earlier tragic event.

An unfortunate aspect in former East Germany is that most of the former Stasi officers the author interviewed have successfully hidden their identity. Also, the former informers have managed to keep anonymity since they haven't owned up after the fall of Communism.

Unlike books on the Soviet Union, there are not many books on former East Germany. This present book is very informative about lives that East Germans - some of them, at least - had to live until the fall of the Berlin Wall. The author did thorough research on the subject, while her writing style is sometimes lyrical, personal and poetic. The book is highly recommendable.
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on 4 April 2017
Stasiland is the first book by Anna Funder. In this book she explores the impact of the Stasi, the former East German security service. The Stasi impacted the population to varying degrees.

The book is a very interesting. Using interviews it talks to both former officers of the Stasi and the people whom they, the Stasi, observed and impacted.

If you, like me have an interest in the Stasi, the German Democratic Republic or the cold war. I would recommend this book.
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on 18 April 2017
Read this book while in the Mitte district where the author lived in Berlin. Absolutely stunning book which captured the zeitgeist of the city and a MUST read before you go or even better sitting with a beer overlooking the wall as I did. I left the book at hotel reception with a note so hopefully another traveller is also learning of these amazing stories and brave people.
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on 5 March 2017
Very chilling insight into a paranoid regime with a lot of human tragedy along the way. I really enjoyed the way the writer conveys all of this in a very concise way.
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on 14 December 2015
Quite interesting in many ways, but to my thinking the author drags its feet, fills pages repeatedly
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on 2 March 2017
An absolute must read for anyone interested in the Stasi, Berlin Wall, GDR and the Cold War. Often shocking, funny and tragic.
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on 26 August 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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on 12 November 2016
An excellent and informative book
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