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17 March 2014

Anna Funder
Granta Books
First Published
September 2011
History, East Germany, Non-Fiction

Stories from behind the Berlin Wall

Usually I would keep anything to do with political opinions out of my blog, but his book is kind of very personal to me. I presume it is more a historical account rather than a political argumentation in any event. So anything regarding the former East Germany would catch my interest. I grew up in East Germany and was in Berlin on 09 November 1989, the night the fall came down. You know what I did in Berlin in that historic night? I was asleep. Yes, no joke! I quite simply worked in a job where I had to start every day at 4am, so I was in bed the night before by 8pm. But that's a different story all together which, I was told often, I should write down one day, but I'm not an author :) 

The author Anna Funder is Australian and was working in Berlin in the early 1990's. This is obviously the time just after the wall had come down and the two sides were just 'getting together' - like a couple who had only briefly been together as teenagers an now pensioners, they have to learn to live together again. Not an easy task. Funder became interested in East Germans and particularly wanted to find out whether individuals resisted the regime or whether any attempts would have been treated with severe punishment right from the outset. Also, what was it really like to work for the Stasi, the East German Secret Service. It is said that as much as 1 in 10 in the population of East Germany was an informant for the Stasi - an astonishing number, if you imagine just the people the average person works with. 

Funder placed adverts in local newspapers to get people to talk to her and wrote their stories down. And this is where this book stands out for me as it covers 'the unknown little person' rather than the big political big-wigs. There are no political arguments in her book, but just simple stories of how people lived and survived in the regime, how they got recruited for the Stasi, how it was to work for the Secret Service, spying on your family and co-workers.

On the negative side, I have to say that as a former East German, it always seems to be a bit sad that our life in that country always gets reduced to the Stasi and living with being spied on. I suppose that is in the nature of a book about the Stasi and in same way as a book from Weight Watchers would reduce your life to weight loss. 

Overall, one of the few books about the Stasi which looks at common people, thus making it a great read for anyone interested in the topic and want to look a bit deeper than a history book.