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  • This year, Germany is celebrating

  • the 25th anniversary of the peaceful revolution

  • in East Germany.

  • In 1989, the Communist regime was moved away,

  • the Berlin Wall came down, and one year later,

  • the German Democratic Republic, the GDR,

  • in the East was unified

  • with the Federal Republic of Germany in the West

  • to found today's Germany.

  • Among many other things, Germany inherited

  • the archives of the East German secret police,

  • known as the Stasi.

  • Only two years after its dissolution,

  • its documents were opened to the public,

  • and historians such as me started

  • to study these documents

  • to learn more about how the GDR surveillance state

  • functioned.

  • Perhaps you have watched the movie

  • "The Lives of Others."

  • This movie made the Stasi known worldwide,

  • and as we live in an age where words

  • such as "surveillance" or "wiretapping"

  • are on the front pages of newspapers,

  • I would like to speak about how the Stasi

  • really worked.

  • At the beginning, let's have a short look

  • at the history of the Stasi,

  • because it's really important for understanding

  • its self-conception.

  • Its origins are located in Russia.

  • In 1917, the Russian Communists founded

  • the Emergency Commission for Combating

  • Counter-Revolution and Sabotage,

  • shortly Cheka.

  • It was led by Felix Dzerzhinsky.

  • The Cheka was an instrument of the Communists

  • to establish their regime by terrorizing the population

  • and executing their enemies.

  • It evolved later into the well-known KGB.

  • The Cheka was the idol of the Stasi officers.

  • They called themselves Chekists,

  • and even the emblem was very similar,

  • as you can see here.

  • In fact, the secret police of Russia

  • was the creator and instructor of the Stasi.

  • When the Red Army occupied East Germany in 1945,

  • it immediately expanded there,

  • and soon it started to train the German Communists

  • to build up their own secret police.

  • By the way, in this hall where we are now,

  • the ruling party of the GDR was founded in 1946.

  • Five years later, the Stasi was established,

  • and step by step, the dirty job of oppression

  • was handed over to it.

  • For instance, the central jail

  • for political prisoners,

  • which was established by the Russians,

  • was taken over by the Stasi

  • and used until the end of Communism.

  • You see it here.

  • At the beginning, every important step

  • took place under the attendance of the Russians.

  • But the Germans are known to be very effective,

  • so the Stasi grew very quickly,

  • and already in 1953, it had more employees

  • than the Gestapo had,

  • the secret police of Nazi Germany.

  • The number doubled in each decade.

  • In 1989, more than 90,000 employees

  • worked for the Stasi.

  • This meant that one employee

  • was responsible for 180 inhabitants,

  • which was really unique in the world.

  • At the top of this tremendous apparatus,

  • there was one man, Erich Mielke.

  • He ruled the Ministry of State Security

  • for more than 30 years.

  • He was a scrupulous functionary

  • in his past, he killed two policemen

  • not far away from here

  • who in fact personalized the Stasi.

  • But what was so exceptional about the Stasi?

  • Foremost, it was its enormous power,

  • because it united different functions

  • in one organization.

  • First of all, the Stasi

  • was an intelligence service.

  • It used all the imaginable instruments

  • for getting information secretly,

  • such as informers, or tapping phones,

  • as you can see it on the picture here.

  • And it was not only active in East Germany,

  • but all over the world.

  • Secondly, the Stasi was a secret police.

  • It could stop people on the street

  • and arrest them in its own prisons.

  • Thirdly, the Stasi worked

  • as a kind of public prosecutor.

  • It had the right to open preliminary investigations

  • and to interrogate people officially.

  • Last but not least,

  • the Stasi had its own armed forces.

  • More than 11,000 soldiers were serving

  • in its so-called Guards Regiment.

  • It was founded to crash down protests and uprisings.

  • Due to this concentration of power,

  • the Stasi was called a state in the state.

  • But let's look in more and more detail

  • at the tools of the Stasi.

  • Please keep in mind that at that time

  • the web and smartphones were not yet invented.

  • Of course, the Stasi used all kinds

  • of technical instruments to survey people.

  • Telephones were wiretapped,

  • including the phone of the German chancellor in the West,

  • and often also the apartments.

  • Every day, 90,000 letters were being opened

  • by these machines.

  • The Stasi also shadowed tens of thousands of people

  • using specially trained agents and secret cameras

  • to document every step one took.

  • In this picture, you can see me

  • as a young man just in front of this building

  • where we are now, photographed by a Stasi agent.

  • The Stasi even collected the smell of people.

  • It stored samples of it in closed jars

  • which were found after the peaceful revolution.

  • For all these tasks, highly specialized departments

  • were responsible.

  • The one which was tapping phone calls

  • was completely separated

  • from the one which controlled the letters,

  • for good reasons,

  • because if one agent quit the Stasi,

  • his knowledge was very small.

  • Contrast that with Snowden, for example.

  • But the vertical specialization was also important

  • to prevent all kinds of empathy

  • with the object of observation.

  • The agent who shadowed me

  • didn't know who I was

  • or why I was surveyed.

  • In fact, I smuggled forbidden books

  • from West to East Germany.

  • But what was even more typical for the Stasi

  • was the use of human intelligence,

  • people who reported secretly to the Stasi.

  • For the Minister of State Security,

  • these so-called unofficial employees

  • were the most important tools.

  • From 1975 on, nearly 200,000 people

  • collaborated constantly with the Stasi,

  • more than one percent of the population.

  • And in a way, the minister was right,

  • because technical instruments

  • can only register what people are doing,

  • but agents and spies can also report

  • what people are planning to do

  • and what they are thinking.

  • Therefore, the Stasi recruited so many informants.

  • The system of how to get them

  • and how to educate them, as it was called,

  • was very sophisticated.

  • The Stasi had its own university,

  • not far away from here,

  • where the methods were explored

  • and taught to the officers.

  • This guideline gave a detailed description

  • of every step you have to take

  • if you want to convince human beings

  • to betray their fellow citizens.

  • Sometimes it's said that informants were pressured

  • to becoming one,

  • but that's mostly not true,

  • because a forced informant is a bad informant.

  • Only someone who wants to give you the information you need

  • is an effective whistleblower.

  • The main reasons why people cooperated with the Stasi