The Sun Rises in the East – Right?

It’s 5:16am, the world is quiet. Excellent. I like it best like this… (and for a change, I’m not still awake but woke up after 9 hours of good sleep…)

My mind is doing a lot of work already, and once it’s up, it’s up. So I’m already continuing to think about all the various threads of thought I laid aside when I fell asleep last night. It’s very much memory lane at the moment. Family memories. Church memories. School and town memories – and trying to understand them within the context of where my country was at that time. 

I was born in the former East, the German Democratic Republic. The wall fell before I started school but I begin to wonder more and more just how much of the GDR I still grew up with after that. My parents were born in that state too, and spent all their formative years in it. The church I belonged to through them had adjusted to being in that state for 40 years – and it was not one of the politically involved churches, quite the opposite. 

At the moment, I’m considering doing (academic) research into GDR culture and literature, which is why my mind is so focussed on my own experiences in that context. And for the first time I wonder if actually my parents were IMs too (IM=”Informeller Mitarbeiter”= informants for the Stasi, the State’s security service) – an enormous number of people were asked to do that, and my parents would not have had the courage to say “no” if asked, I’m pretty certain of that. And I do know that in particular in their church, there were quite a few informants of the Stasi. So far I had been wondering about others in my family – one of my granddad’s brothers, for instance, who owned a private business that seemed to be thriving (and he’s one of those who are very nostalgic – or “ostalgic” as people say now – about the GDR). 

I grew up in a family of secret keepers, I know there are things they don’t speak about, and I wonder if this was part of it. I wouldn’t be surprised. But who was registered as an IM is only one part of that question, the other is how much they actually reported. A lot of people were registered, often under quite a bit of pressure against themselves and/or threats of what could be the consequences for members of their family and circle of friends if they did not want to “serve the state” in this way. Not all of them reported anything worth knowing. 

The GDR very much needs more research, there’s plenty of work still to be done, both to fully understand what exactly happened, but also for people now to process their personal experience. A lot of people seem to miss the GDR at times – the state they were born in, a culture that is more familiar to them than what used to be “the enemy”, the rest of Germany. They miss a state that functioned as a prison for its inhabitants, that suppressed any form of independent thinking, that worked with threats and violence, that created one blatant lie after another with no relation whatsoever to reality – and all this was rather obvious to its people, who shrugged their shoulders and accepted their lives within the context they were given. There was opposition, yes. Not enough, no. And half of the opposition consisted of Stasi informants… This whole construct of a Socialist state was one huge house of cards, and it is a miracle it lasted 40 years before going bankrupt. Bankruptcy was half of the unification process, if not more. Things happened faster than planned in the end, but they were inevitably going to happen in any case. 

I’m obviously part of that third generation that was born in a state that does not exist anymore, and I see the need to talk about all this when others don’t. And apart from digging into libraries, archives and Stasi files, this is one more topic I will bring up within my family in much more detail than it has been talked about so far. I want to know. I want the truth – and I’m pretty sure I won’t get the full picture from them. But I will try…

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