Book review: ‘Stasiland’ by Anna Funder

‘Stasiland’ by Anna Funder

This book had been on my To Read list for twenty years until I finally decided to get my act together after a friend raved about it on social media.

Stasiland is a wonderful book. Anna Funder meets and interviews people who lived in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany), including many who worked for the Stasi state police. Her interviewees are remarkably open about how they thought and behaved under the authoritarian Honecker regime, which is most notorious, perhaps, for having constructed the Berlin Wall. The stories Funder unearths are moving, alarming, and often darkly funny.

Despite the harshness of the regime, one surprising message from this book was just how much nostalgia there was (and presumably still is) for the former GDR. Another surprise was that, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first draft of the German Reunification Treaty attempted to effectively prevent access to historical Stasi files about individual citizens. Such was the outcry in the East that the draft treaty was amended. But there was still a feeling that, in the name of reconciliation and peaceful transition, many historical wrongs were conveniently buried, leaving many former Stasi staff and their collaborators in positions of power. This echoed the similar burial of inconvenient truths in post-Nazi Germany that so annoyed the late W.G. Sebald, as described in Carole Angier’s recent Sebald biography, Speak, Silence.

Funder claims that maybe as many as one in 6½ people in the GDR either worked directly for the Stasi, or were full- or part-time informants. The regime created and operated under a climate of fear and mistrust in which ‘people were required to acknowledge as assortment of fictions as fact’. The book ought to be a wake-up call for anyone who doesn’t hear alarm bells ringing at the antics of more recent ‘post-truth’ populist politicians.

A brilliant book. Highly recommended.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.


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