DARK ARTS OF THE STASI – FILE #6 DEVILS MOUNTAIN

This is the sixth 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, but they weren’t the only ones spying on Berlin.

Devil’s Mountain is an abandoned NSA (National Security Agency) spy station in Grunewald Forest just 30 minutes out of Berlin. The sophisticated listening station was built to eavesdrop by the UK and USA on the Eastern Bloc during the cold war.

Originally a swamp and forest, a technical college for the Nazi’s was being built on the land in the 1930’s. World War Two stopped the project. The war turned Berlin to ashes, a landscape of total ruin. The rubble from houses, shops and buildings was dumped on the land where the Nazi college was. The British and Americans became interested in the uses of this man made mountain which reached 120 metres high.

By the ‘60s various antennas with protective domes were installed by the Americans and the British. For decades NSA workers listened in on East Berlin. Until the end of the cold war, Devils Mountain only served as a military station.

After the Wall fell and the station was finally closed, there was an unsuccessful bid from a group of investors with plans to develop the area.

These days the abandoned spy station is home to an artist community who look after the structure. They also offer guided tours of the complex.

Gary Alikivi   December 2020.

DARK ARTS OF THE STASI – 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.

DARK ARTS OF THE STASI – FILE #4 DIVISION X:

This is the fourth 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.

They aimed for complete surveillance and interfered in every part of the lives of their citizens. This post reveals that the Stasi had their own design for life.

A smear campaign was a huge part of the propaganda war with the west, and extreme measures were taken to prevent any contamination seeping into the east. Inside the GDR the Government controlled newspapers and magazines. Access to books was restricted and censorship was a constant pressure on writers.

There is a story in Stasiland by Anna Funder, of a woman who was living with her partner and they were both under surveillance. The Stasi would come over from time to time and search the apartment.

One of the officers was up a ladder searching the bookshelves when he found George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The officer looked at the cover containing a red flag and pigs, on what looked like a collective farm. He thought that meant it was all right so he put it back. He mustn’t have known that Orwell was banned in the GDR.

Training as a journalist was effectively training as a Government spokesperson. As well as using journalists to plant stories in western media, a Department X was set up to spread disinformation – fake news from the GDR. It collected sensitive information from agents in the West and leaked it to cause harm.

The Stasi manufactured documents and edited audio recordings of conversations to damage reputations and spread rumours about people, especially about them working for the Stasi.

Interference in West German politics also came to light – exclusives were given to journalists about a West German politicians link to a Nazi past, and backbenchers were bribed for votes to keep preferred people in power.

The only mass media the Government couldn’t control was the signal from Western television stations – but it tried. The Stasi used to monitor the angle of peoples antennae hanging out of their apartments, punishing them if they were turned to the West. 

Popular entertainment programmes in the East where deliberately timed to appear alongside important but depressing news of protests and political upheaval in the west. A phrase came out of these times – ‘The value of the clueless’ where parts of East Germany were not able to receive TV programs from the west.

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).

Gary Alikivi  November 2020.

DARK ARTS OF THE STASI – FILE #3: KLAUS RENFT, RENEGADE OF EAST GERMAN ROCK N ROLL (1942-2006)

This is the third 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.

The Stasi aimed for complete surveillance and interfered in every part of the lives of their citizens. This post features an artist who tried to survive amongst the strict rules and regulations of the regime.

Born in 1942, musician Klaus Renft led a band singing about rebellion and hope – the lyrics were scrutinized by the Stasi. The Klaus Renft Combo were popular playing to big crowds in villages as they were banned from playing in most towns – in the end they became too hot to handle for the regime.

In his teenage years his live cover set included Chuck Berry, The Animals, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin who he listened to on western RIAS (Radio in American Sector) – his favourite songs were banned in the east.

Renft was targeted by the Stasi who opened a file on him under the code name ‘Wanderer’. After the Wall came down the files were opened and he applied to see his. One entry included a message from Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, who asked his officers about the band ‘Why can’t you just grab them ? Why aren’t they liquidated?’

Another complaint about the band from a club owner where they had just played ‘After the end of the concert, approx. forty bottles of red wine were found….it is incomprehensible to us that a musical ensemble should require the consumption of such a quantity of alcohol to attain the right mood’.

There was further complaints about the band on stage announcing to the audience ‘There are people sitting in this room reporting on us’ and ‘You are the audience that will experience the group Renft for the last time because we are about to be banned’.

In 1975 the bands performance licence was not renewed by the Ministry of Culture. The officer told them ‘You are not banned, you simply do not exist’. They had recorded at the only record company in East Germany – AMIGA, but their records disappeared from shops overnight and the band were never played on radio or written about. The record company reprinted its entire catalogue so it could leave them out.

Rumours were put about by the state that the band had split up. They did, but some members, the slightly less political, went on to form a new band, Karussell and recorded Reft songs note for note and changed the lyrics. The manager was a Stasi man.

Klaus Renft eventually left for the west where he toured and recorded new material. He ended up working as a soundman in a West Berlin theatre. Sadly, Klaus Renft died of cancer aged 64 on 9 October 2006.

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.

DARK ARTS OF THE STASI – FILE # 2: OTHER PEOPLES LIVES

A few contacts with North East musicians and writers have dropped into my mail box so I‘ll follow those up soon. This blog, along with the usual ‘legendary myths from rock stars’, or in the case for Dave Dawson (Warrior)…

‘Sometimes instead of paying for overnight digs we would save a bit money by sleeping on the floor of the van. But one night someone had stood in some dog crap, needless to say nobody got much sleep that night!’

I’ve included on the blog stories about the Spanish Civil War, the work of photographers, plus some local Tyneside history stuff which has uncovered interesting people, well it’s all about the story isn’t it ?  

For now and the next few posts I’ll take a big swerve and look at some interesting stories in German history. Lately I’ve come across some stories about the fall of the Berlin Wall and followed that up with research about the Stasi secret police.

Some just fell into my lap while others took a bit more research, in particular the book by John O. Koehler ‘Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police.

This is the second post on the Dark Arts of the Stasi –

From 1950 to 1990 sinister forces were at work in the German Democratic Republic. Laid out end to end, the files, photos, video and audio recordings the Stasi kept on its citizens would form a line over 100 mile long. Files would contain direct action orders for someone to be either observed, arrested, kidnapped, interrogated or chillingly – ‘liquidation’. The Stasi ruled with an iron fist.

In every school, factory, apartment block and pub there was someone reporting about other people’s lives. People had to be careful about what they said, where they said it, and to who. There was an absolute fear of being reported. At home they would turn the volume up on their radios or TV. ID cards had to be carried everywhere you went. Paranoia had set in.

The aim for complete observation brought out a particularly nasty brand of informers called the ‘IMs’ – ‘inofizielle Mitarbeiter’ or unofficial collaborators.

IMs’ would target artistic and church groups for surveillance. They reported on the work and domestic life of family members, close friends and neighbours without them knowing. They were looking to interfere in every part of their lives.

Unlike uniformed Stasi officers, ‘IM’s never revealed their identity, they were forbidden to talk about their work to anyone. It wasn’t until after the spying activities of the ‘IM’s were uncovered,  that partnerships, marriages and friendships were ripped apart.

Film poster for ‘The Lives of Others’ which featured many Stasi surveillance techniques.

IM’s were motivated by either selfishness, power over others, being somebody, or out of a sincere duty to the GDR. Whatever the reason, once they were in there was no turning back. If they wanted out, their life would be put under scrutiny, exposed to various negative tactics and employment opportunities destroyed.

Finally, after the fall of the regime the Stasi officers were instructed to destroy any documents or files. They shredded until shredders collapsed and burnt out. Some files were ripped up and put in sacks in a neat and orderly fashion so that now it is possible for the ‘puzzle women’ employed by the German government to be able to piece the scraps back together.

Thousands of people targeted by the Stasi have requested to read their files but it will take years to reconstruct documents with many thousands of sacks yet to be opened.

In one file there is detailed plans of the Stasi, together with the army, for the invasion of West Berlin in 1985. No one in the West had imagined the extent of the Stasi’s ambitions.

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.

Gary Alikivi   November 2020.

DARK ARTS OF THE STASI – FILE #1: FIREWORKS EXPLODING IN THE NIGHT SKY

I remember watching TV pictures of the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989. The wall divided Germany into east and west for nearly 30 years. Further posts on the blog delve deeper into East Germany (GDR) and the Stasi secret police – why they spied on their citizens and the methods they used.

Today, social media would have been their ultimate weapon of surveillance, their crowning glory. First, back to the story of the Berlin wall…..

(pic. BBC History)

After the Second World War, Germany was split between the Soviet Union in the east, and in the west, the UK, USA and France. A cold war developed between the hostile superpowers of the USA and USSR, with East Germany on the front line.

Looking for a better life in the west, up to 3 million people escaped from the east. As a result the East Germans built a 28 mile long wall that went up overnight on Saturday August 12th 1961. By Sunday morning people woke up to find themselves cut off from friends, relatives, work and school. Soldiers with binoculars and dogs, barbed wire, guard towers and light pylons, with an area known as the ‘death strip’ attempted to keep people in.

Bus routes were altered, train stations cleared and road blocks set up along the border. The GDR leader, Honecker, believed ‘the wall will last for 100 years’. Eastern Communism pushed back hard against Western Capitalism.

In 1985 the leadership of the Soviet Union changed  – Chernenko was out and Gorbachev was in, bringing in perestroika and glasnost – his policy of restructuring and openness. East German government was normally in step with Soviet Union policies but believed glasnost was wrong and put a newspaper ban on any Gorbachev speeches.

The people disagreed, although many of them wanted to stay in the East they just wanted change. On the streets they publicly criticized Honecker and praised Gorbachev.

On 7 October 1989 parades in Berlin celebrated forty years of the GDR. Gorbachev stood next to the much older German leaders including Honecker and Mielke who was head of the East German Ministry of Security (Stasi) and oversaw the building of the wall. Gorbachev was there to try and convince the leadership to adopt his reformist policies. Honecker and Mielke ignored him. A decision that changed the world.

On 9 October 70,000 people went out onto the dark streets of Berlin carrying candles. Protesters were coming together around the country, momentum was growing. Outside Stasi offices they demanded ‘Reveal the Stasi informers. We are the People. Free elections’. Peaceful protests increased real pressure on the government.  

On 9 November the Politburo policy making committee arranged an urgent meeting. They knew freedom of movement was a big problem to the people so to help squash the protests they decided to relax travel restrictions. A press conference was called and Politburo member Schabowski was given instructions to read a note on live TV – ‘a phased relaxation of travel restrictions’ was the plan. But it didn’t play out that way.

A journalist asked ‘When will this come into force?’ Schabowski was embarrassed as he looked at the note then turned it over. It was blank. ‘It will come into force….to my knowledge…. immediately’. Within hours of his blunder 10,000 people on foot and in their Trabant cars were at Berlins Bornholmer Bridge checkpoint. The border guards were swamped and the Stasi held their fire.

(pic. BBC History)

People streamed into West Berlin, crying, singing and dancing on the wall. It was all over. On 10 November as fireworks exploded in the night sky, people used hammers and pick axes to attack the wall, it wasn’t taken brick by brick – it was smashed wide open. Demolition trucks rolled in on 11th. Finally, after nearly 30 years the Wall came crashing down.

In the reformed Germany free elections were held on March 18th 1990.

Parts of the Wall are in 50 countries around the world where it is seen as a symbol of freedom.

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.