STASI - Part one
The Stasi, was the
flagship intelligence agency of the East German government. It was
made up of thousands of truly sincere and dedicated men and women who
communaly shared a truly horrid sense of fashion and absolutely no
sense of suavety and style. They dressed like carictures of Jerry
Cotton, who in fact was a West German copy of the British spy,
James Bond. You may be asking yourself, "Hey wait just a
minute, what does this gentleman (who is American I might add)
possibly have to do with the East German Stasi"? And I might
possibly answer that unfortunately I had more contact with them than
I'd have chosen to initiate on my own had I been given a choice in
Try to imagine
the mid 80's and then just imagine that I was working in West Berlin
in Movies and Television as well as in the biggest Theaters in West
Berlin. That's right, me, a young man from a small corner of a small
town in Connecticut. A real "popper and hopper" no? Need I
say it was like a dream come true.
In America, I'd
led a very different working life. I loved to go to the theater and
to the movies but I spent most of my day's in places like Nuclear
Submarines and Nuclear Power Stations or the occasional Missile
Defense Systems, with odd Chemical factory thrown in for good
measure. My work spases were many things, but it was not a creative
environment like that in which I was immersed in West Berlin.
I often wondered
if the Stasi knew of my activity's before moving to West Berlin, and
if so, how would they have discovered it. They were devious devils
which one was wise not to under- estimate.
In my free time,
when I wasn't working in West Berlin, I would cross through that
infamous, or famous "Checkpoint Charlie", and pop into East
Berlin where I would try to catch a "Black Taxi". A "Black
Taxi" was basically anyone who owned a Wartburg or Trabbant
(which were the East German cars of the day), and who in their free
time moonlighted as a taxi driver.
I would have them
drive me to the Schönhauser Alle. where I would ask them to stop at
the Schönhauser Alle 5 which was a very well known address to the
Stasi, having nothing to do with me. Why, there was even a police
station about a 100 meters up the road with a Stasi office right in
it. You might think that to be right cozy, and it was.
Alle 5 was a squatted house, one of many in East Berlin (which had a
thriving squatters scene). A member of "Feeling B" (a
popular East Berlin punk band) lived in one of the apartments
overlooking the street. As you could well imagine, punk bands
and skinheads were always of interest to the Stasi. Their files were
full of them. Why you can even find the Schönhauser Alle 5 marked on
a large Stasi map which designated various high value surveillance
targets in East Berlin.
I'd met an
attractive and quite talented painter in East Berlin who lived in an
apartment in the back of the Schönhauser Alle 5, and I'd fallen in
love with her as she had with me. It was all very exotic as you can
imagine, why it was like living a James Bond movie.
There was a
slight problem though, which was that there was a wall between us
which was staffed with lots and lots of armed border guards and Stasi
officers. All border crossings were staffed by Stasi officers,
especially Checkpoint Charlie. Don't forget that America was East
Germany's greatest foe in a fluidly constant international chess game
called the "cold war".
My first two
crossings into the eastern side of Berlin took place at the large
Friedrichstrasse border crossing with it's renowned "Palace of
tears". It truly lived up to it's name as tears most certainly
did flow in buckets, splashing in waves over hugs and kisses passed
between family's who watched their loved ones return to the darkend
protion of their city maps called West Berlin (an East Berlin street
map only showed East Berlin with everything in West Berlin reduced to
a broad wash of color which was devoid of street names. [deny the
mind a detailed fantasy which could grow into something dangerous]).
I learned very
quickly that an American, or anyone for that matter, who showed up
once or twice at one of the many border crossings into East Berlin
was considered a tourist, but, the third time separates the
metaphorical wheat from the chaff , at which point you are no longer
considered a tourist.
Three strikes and
your out, and that's exactly what happened to me on my third attempt
at crossing the border. I was brought into the recesses of the
"Palace of tears", into a small and claustrophobic room. I
was told to sit and wait. Well, that's exactly what I did do. I
waited for several hours before the very same border guard ( aka.
Stasi officer) returned with my passport and my possessions, which
had been taken from me. I was told that they were refusing me entry
into East Berlin and that I would be escorted back to West Berlin.
Well, as you
would have it, several hours later I tried to cross at the much
smaller Checkpoint Charlie, which was the only other crossing point
where I woiuld have been allowed to pass throuigh as an American at
that point in history.
I bought a visa
for 5 DM and I exchanged a further 25 DM's, all at a rate of 1 to 1
of course (at the same time that I could have changed for 1 to 10 or
more in the thriving underground currency markets in West Berlin ),
and only then was I allowed to proceed into East Berlin.
Charlie was much smaller, and therefore it was much easier to observe
and control. Well the CIA must have agreed because they also had an
apartment across the street on the Western side of Checkpoint
Charlie, which they used for surveillance. On the Eastern side you
confronted the Stasi from the moment you entered their territory. You
were spotted and recorded before you even got that far.
The Stasi could
only push an American so far without risking an international
incident, but, never the less, one could not forget that when you
stood in Checkpoint Charlie you already stood many meters inside of
East German territory and most importantly, beyond the reaches of
allied assistance. At that point you were,"on your own" so
Checkpoint Charlie entry chime still rings in my ear, even after all
these years. It was a loud and solid THUMP/BANG!!!, as a thick and
heavy Oak door would slam shut behind me. It left a deep
bass-aftertaste that was cavernous and reverberated in my soul, and
seemed near never-ending.
Why that old door
would slam shut all by itself without any mechanical assistance,
almost like it was magic. I was of the opinion that they had simply
tilted the door frame slightly to achieve this devastating acoustic
trickery, and believe you me, it was a whopper of a sound and it
always reinforced the fact that I was a long way from Kansas.
consisted of three variations. I will call the first variation , for
lack of anything better to call it. "Variant A"was a
relatively neutral encounter. It began with an initial assesment of
ones passport and person. I would stand in a tight, narrow corridor,
locked in at both ends by heavy Oak doors under a low ceiling whose
wieght pressed down upon me . I would stand in one spot and wait for
a reaction from a border guard (aka Stasi officer) who was in
possetion of my passport and who was sitting on the other side of a
thick bullet-proof glass window.
Now let me tell
you about the height of that window cause it was a kicker. They made
the height of that window such that you could never see his hands or
what he was looking at on the desk in front of him. Was he sitting in
front of a computer screen waiting for Security check to come back on
my passport number as well as instructions as to how he should
proceed with me? No matter how tall or short you were, you couldn't
see more than his head and shoulders. He could have been reading a
confiscated Playboy magazine or both for all you knew. How could you
know when you couldn't see what he was doing.
out while you stood in one spot maintaing a calm air of nonchalance.
You didn't want to came off as nervous or figgity. Sometimes he would
stare at whatever was on the desk for a very long time, and sometimes
he would drill into your head with an intense eyeball-piercing stare,
as the clock ticked on and then stopped. There was no discernible
pattern in the excrutiating madness. To dangle you in limbo for a
long time was strategically engineered to aggravate your ever growing
passport would be returned and I would then enter a large room with
variouis ailes marked ouit where mulitple tourists could be
simultainiously proccesed. The contents of my pockets would be
emptyed and checked. If all went well I would exchange money before
purchasing a 24 hour visa and be allowed to exit the checkpoint and
enter East Berlin..
It's a funny
thing though about that 24 hour visa because no matter what time it
was issued, you were not allowed to come back to the checkpoint later
than midnight, or you would have been in violation(of what, I was
never sure, but I knew they could detain me and at the least it would
cost me a lot of money in a western currency.). I never tested what
would happen if I came late, I never came late.
Then there was
"Variant B", which began in the same claustrophobic
corridor (this phase was a constant throughout all three variations)
before moving to the big room where there was the usual emptying of
the pockets and the changing of moneys.
process was conducted in a jovial manner, with a metaphorical pat on
the back. I would be asked things in a jokey and friendly manner
like, "how was the duck you brought over last week, I bet your
girlfriend really liked it huh?". Duck was not normaly found in
an East Berlin grocery store so it was a special event. If oen was
cynical one couild have said it was similar to the exchange of
chocolate, ciggarettes and silk stockings back in '46.
You could tell
they really had a chuckle over this hollywood romance between their
arch-enemy, and one of thier own. When you thought about it, the
friendliness made sense, didn't it? I mean after all, we knew each other didn't we? Like the butcher, or backer,
or any of those poeple we share a small part of our lives with every
day. We'd met dozens of times over the past months. We were like old
friends who went to different schools together and didn't know each
other but never the less shared a jovial moment together.
however, was a horse of a different color altogether. It was
different beast from the git-go, and it veered off immediatly into a
universe of burning-ice commands and cold, pityless stares by the
same men and and women in uiniform that I had been jocking wiht but
mere days before.
I would be
commanded to accompany the Stasi officer of the day into the bowels
of the neather-world within Checkpoint Charlie. I would be brought to
a place where no tourist would willingly go, believe you me.
bitte mit" (Please come with me), using the formal form of
"you", which told you right from the start "NO, we are
not friends". The formal form of "you" leaves no room
for doubt as to where you stood in the hiererarchy. It pressed you
down with ruthless efficiency, to a point which was lower than a
snakes belly lying in the bottom of a wagon track.
After a long,
long walk down a oppresively narrow corridor with low ceilings that
warped my perspective. I would be commanded to enter a small room,
and I don't mean the comfy and cuddly sort of small. I mean the
oppressive and crushy sort of small.
I would then be
commanded to empty my pockets "Entleeren Sie deiner Taschen
bitte!"(Empty your pockets , Please!). Thier tone of voice drove
the word "Please", into my belly like a hang-mans noose. I
would then proceed to do their dirty work for them by slipping my own
damned hands into my pockets in order to dispossess myself of all my
possessions before placing the contents of my life onto a small tray.
They had the keys to the women I loved. I felt small and slimy doing
thier little nasty bussiness for them while they kept their hands
clean, but that's the way things go in those circumstances. I thought
of the Buddists with their flexible trees that are left standing when
the storm has passed.
They would then
take my possessions with them to be analyzed and sniffed (They would
get your scent on a piece of cloth, like a seat cover you might have
sat on, and then save it in a sealed glass jar for further sniffing
[by dogs I assumed]) and photographed and recorded. All of thier
findings and physical evidence would then be sent to the Stasi
headquarters in Lichtenberg where it would land on the desk of an
officer in the "Dept.of Espionage Detection and Elimination"
or, as the Stasi would have known it, the "HA2"
("HauptAbteilung2" or Central Division 2), for further
scrutiny. I know this because I saw two index cards with my name on
one of them, and the name of my girlfriend on the other. They were
found after the reunification of the two Germany's.
If you are told
to do something often enough your brain will fabricate a connection
which it can revert to at a later date. That is the truth as I
discovered much to my surprise. Even in West Berlin where I was safe
from all of that James Bond love business, I would find myself going
through my pockets. Yes, even at home in West Berlin. For instance,
when I was in the subway with nothing but punkers all around me, I
would be contemplating how I would answer if an explanation for
things I had in my pockets were demanded of me.
How would I
explain for example, a particular telephone number I had on my
person, or how would I explain a face in a foto or how would I
describe the significance of a written note, or a shopping list for
that matter? They never physicaly touched me though, why should they,
they'd trained me to disassemble myself. I soon learned to come to
the border with only my passport and my eyeglasses. Occasionally of
course one would forget.
Then I'd just
sit, and I'd just wait, and before you knew it old mother time would
stretch out and become a thin wire upon which your sanity sat, as
seconds melted and dripped into hours and days, and minutes warped
into whole lifetimes of boundless hops and skips and broken bones,
and into all that you would sink.
Time became just
another weapon in an exponentially growing arsenal of psychological
manipulations which kept me dancin and kept me all tippy-toeing
around. You could truly lose youir balance. I never knew how long I
waited of course, because the room had been disinfected of all time
was in those deep and never-ending troughs and valleys that time had
stretched out and simultainously thickened .
It was in that void of too much time, that the old fantasy factory
(you know that atrocious thing we call our mind) could begin to
create all sorts of tom-foolery and mind-bending scenarios in which I
never really came out on top.
Too much time
sent out shock-waves that carried you from here, to far beyond your
comfort zones. The lack of a clearly defined horizon heightened the
hues and intensity's of my inwardly twisting thoughts, and they did
protest most ardently. Intermittent and undefined variables of fear
flowed loosely like fat in the fire. It was a permanent state of
tension. It could wear a body down quicker than split, and that was
Now you have to
remember that whatever cameras and microphones they'd installed in
those rooms were well out of sight and carefully hidden (I know that
because I always looked, everywhere). At the same time you also knew
that they watched your every facial tick and twitch and nervous jerky
movements (I certainly never picked my nose in those rooms).
Now ponder this
for a moment good sirs and madame's, you knew you were being observed
by multiple sources from multiple angles, but, you were utterly
unable to identify their locations. It was this paradox that
heightened your growing insecurities.
This could raise
your blood pressure as it tightened your belly so that you felt your
breath constricting while it pushed up your body temperature. All of
that produced a tell-tale sheen of sweat on your brim which was a
damn-dead-giveaway that you'd been chumped and punked. At that very
moment you knew they were laughing at you (as well as capturing your
sweat in a special cloth which they saved in a glass jar).
would return and begin the questioning. They would demand
explanations for anything and everything that was in my pockets, or
about things that I had done with my girlfriend in my prior visit
like going to an art exhibit or to the opera or to see a theater
piece and what did I think about what I I had seen.