‘Stasiland’ by Anna Funder is an account. In this study she interprets an ignored history of everyday people from East Germany through interviewing and collecting stories of witnesses. In many sections of Stasiland, positivity is demonstrated through victims courageous stories, however a sense of loss is always present, overshadowing the optimism displayed in the final chapter. This feeling of grief which belies through the book is shown through Miriam who loses her freedom at age 16 and later in life her husband Charlie, Frau Paul who loses her son and Klaus whose career is lost thanks to the stasi. The way in which Funder structures her text also creates more of a sense of reflection rather than positivity. Miriam Weber experiences much loss during her life in the GDR, and her grief and suffering is displayed as a basis throughout ‘Stasiland’. Miriam experiences her first loss at age 16 when she is imprisoned and loses her freedom. When Miriam describes almost being drowned, how she was called derrogitive names by prison guards, the way in which the prisoners were brutal to one another and how she was addressed purely as ‘Juvenile prisoner Number 725’ for 18 months, it becomes obvious that Miriam’s story is horrific and far from being uplifting.
As Miriam exposes the traumatic events she experienced in Hohenheck prison it is made clear to Funder and the reader that Miriam ‘is brave and strong and broken all at once’. The grief Miriam experiences is exemplified as she describes how the love of her life, Charlie dies in prison and how she stuggles to find out the truth. Four years later in 2000, Funder describes Miriam as ‘…a maiden blowing smoke in her tower. Sometimes she [Miriam] can hear and smell them, but for now the beasts are all in their cages.’ This gives the reader slight hope that although Miriam is still extremely frail and has no closure from what has happened to her there may be hope for her future. Although the end of Miriam’s story is slightly uplifting, the intense scrutiny, constant surveillance and horrific imprisonment Miriam endures overshadows the reaffirming last chapter. Funder’s interview with Frau Paul shows extreme strength within a victim of the GDR, however this courage is developped through the temporary loss of her son, Tortsen and the intense scrutiny she experienced throughout this era.
Frau Paul’s story encompasses three chapters of ‘Stasiland’ which highlights the significance of her experiences under the regime. Frau Paul’s story of how her baby was sent to the west to receive the right medication and how she had to live with seeing him only four times within three months is gut wrenching. The readers of ‘Stasiland’ feel a direct sympathy for Frau Paul as she becomes seperated from her extremely sick baby, this fact alone creates such a horrific sense of loss which overlooks any optimism shown within Frau Paul’s story. The shockingly unsupportive treatment Paul and her husband recieve from the state when their child was tragically ill gives the reader an insight to the cruelty experienced by victims of the regime. Frau Paul differs from Miriam in the way that she was involved in organised attempts to escape the GDR to be with Tortsen.
Frau Paul goes to great lengths to explain to Funder that she wasn’t a classic resistance fighterwhen she decided to attempt to illegally leave the GDR, just a mother wanting to be with her baby. The way in which the Stasi turned Frau Paul from a typical, law abiding citizen to, in her eyes a ‘criminal’ is horrific as not only did she lose her son, but also her identity as she is strutinsed and interrogated. Funder uses the chapter ‘The Deal’ to show readers the dreadful choice given to Frau Paul by the stasi interrogators, to act as Stasi bait to catch Michael Hinze, a man who tried to escape with her which would enable her to see her son Tortsen or refuse their offer. Frau Paul is shown in her most courageous moment as she tells Funder how she ‘…had to decide against my son, but I couldn’t let myself be used in this way’. Although Funder and readers view this as an incredible act of bravery it is obvious Frau Paul still carries a feeling of guilt with her leaving her psychologically damaged.
Funder revisits Frau Paul in 2000 where she is working as a tour guide at Hohenschonhausen prison where her ‘soul was buckled out of shape, forever’ as she was sentanced to four years of hard labour. Although she is working hard to preserve memories of the GDR it is obvious that she has trouble moving forward as her life is still being dictated by the Stasi. Funder’s description of Frau Paul as ‘…the picture she has of herself is one that the Stasi made for her’ is terribly sad and along with her loss, permeates any optimism shown within her account. Although Klaus Renft presents himself as coping with the affects of the GDR and the Stasi, he turns to self-destructing behaviour to cover his inability to handle what has happened. Klaus is different to every other person interviewed within ‘Stasiland’. He is Anna’s drinking buddy and the only male victim in the text.
During the time of the GDR Klaus’ band the Klaus Renft Combo became the most popular band in Eastern Germany. Although Klaus enjoyed being the ‘bad boy’ of the Eastern Bloc, but because there was only one record company in the GDR, the lyrics to every one of their songs they set to record were checked over and changed, their career already being dictated by the Stasi. Klaus describes to Funder how as they toured he observed more and more that the society was built on lies and that’…there were so many lies that singing the truth guaranteed them both hero and criminal status’ and how he wanted to ‘scratch the GDR at its marrow’. As Klaus continues his tale, Funder finds it suprising how he is not angry or bitter at what took place as his career is destoryed as the ministry of culture told him his band ‘no longer exists’. Klaus seems to provide a contrast to Frau Paul and Miriam as he claims he had no interest in material possessions and ‘didn’t let them get to me’.
Although Funder interprets his lack of interest in punishing the Stasi as his victory it becomes clear to the reader that perhaps his humour and accessive drinking is Klaus’ way of coping with what happened and his ruined career. Klaus’ story although at some points is humourous is overall fairly sad as his dream is broken by the Stasi. While throughout ‘Stasiland’ there are aspects of positivity at the end of the text a sense of sadness and reflection is more powerful than one of happiness as the reader contemplates what has happened to the victims of the Stasi and the attitude of the ex-stasi men themselves. The devastating feel of destruction and loss felt by Miriam, Frau Paula and Klaus and the other victims of ‘Stasiland’ overshadows the colourful last chapter.
Courtney from Study Moose
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