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Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall Paperback – 1 Sep 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 180 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Granta (1 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847083358
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847083357
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (180 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 16,119 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.

Review

'An appealing blend of investigative and reflective reporting, with the narrative drive of powerful human-interest stories. . . . There is no denying Funder's journalistic talents' --.

'The best account of the strange, secretive place on the other side of the wall' --Evening Standard

'Superb... Funder skilfully deploys fictional techniques to make the material jump off the page: crafted scenes with their own story-arcs, naturalistic dialogue, fully-realised characters with their own plotlines. The atmosphere of grey grimness is vividly conveyed: but there are flashes of humour too' ***** --Independent on Sunday

'These are haunting accounts of an Orwellian time through which no one lived through without paying a high personal price' --Herald

'These rigorously researched, tenderly told stories of life inside East Germany won the Samuel Johnson prize a decade ago. It reads as a powerful backward glance of the everyday fears, terrors but also rebellions. Funder illuminates her subjects with humanity and at times, inserts herself into the story of a nation and identity divided, reminding us just how remarkable investigative journalism can be' --Independent

'These encounters with the survivors are the most harrowing and, until this book, almost forgotten' --The Times

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 10 Nov. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Paperback
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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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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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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