FILE #5 THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYES:
In the fifth post focusing on the work of East German secret police, the Stasi, who post Second World War, ruled the German Democratic Republic (GDR) with an iron fist until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The Stasi aimed for complete surveillance and interfered in every part of the lives of their citizens.
They arrested, interrogated and imprisoned anyone they chose. They would use the distress of people who were in prison by offering to let them out if they spy for them.
Intercepting thousands of phone calls, bugging hotel rooms and spying on diplomats was all part of their mission for complete observation. They steamed open mail in secret rooms above post offices. They copied letters then taped the envelope back together with a sticker ‘Damaged in Transit’.
As a way to find criminals they developed ‘smell sampling’. The theory was that we all have our own odour, which we leave on everything we touch. These smells can be captured in jars, and with the help of trained sniffer dogs, compared to find a match.
Mostly, they would collect smell samples underhand and what they called ‘operating in the shadows’. They would break into someone’s house and take a piece of clothing worn close to the skin.
Or a person would be brought in for questioning, and the vinyl seat they had sat on would be wiped afterward with a cloth. The piece of stolen clothing or cloth off the seat would be placed in a jar with the ‘suspects’ details on.
The Stasi would take its dogs and jars to a location where they suspected an illegal meeting had occurred, and see if the dogs could pick up the scents of the people whose smells were captured in jars.
They were also reported to use radiation to mark people it wanted to track. Radioactive tags like pins were made for clothing, magnets to place on cars and a spray to spread on people in a crowd or spray their floor at home so they would leave radioactive footprints everywhere they went.
To keep information safe from satellite surveillance the Stasi archive building had a copper lined room planned for it – Berliners used to refer to the place as ‘The House of One Thousand Eyes’.
Sources: Stasi: The Untold Story of the Secret Police by John O. Koehler
Stasiland: stories from behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.
Fall of the Berlin Wall with John Simpson (BBC documentary).
Behind the Wall (2011) a film by Michael Patrick Kelly.
If you have any stories related to the Berlin Wall or the Stasi don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Gary Alikivi November 2020.