Skip to main content

Fake mustaches, hidden cameras, 80,000 agents: How Stasi brutalized a nation

By Stephanie Ott, For CNN
September 13, 2013 -- Updated 1024 GMT (1824 HKT)
Disguises as tourists were often used to help agents appear "inconspicuous" in places frequented by Westerners. Props such as plastic shopping bags and cameras were often used.
Disguises as tourists were often used to help agents appear "inconspicuous" in places frequented by Westerners. Props such as plastic shopping bags and cameras were often used.
HIDE CAPTION
The lives of Stasi agents
The lives of Stasi agents
The lives of Stasi agents
The secret techniques of Stasi agents
The lives of Stasi agents
The lives of Stasi agents
The lives of Stasi agents
The lives of Stasi agents
The lives of Stasi agents
The lives of Stasi agents
The lives of Stasi agents
The lives of Stasi agents
The lives of Stasi agents
The lives of Stasi agents
The secret techniques of Stasi agents
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Book shows Stasi images including surveillance techniques, house searches and staged arrests
  • Stasi was East Germany's notorious secret service, that employed at least 80,000 full-time agents
  • Images document training that prospective agents underwent, including shadowing a subject

(CNN) -- The sometimes ludicrous disguises and complex surveillance techniques used by East Germany's Stasi secret police to psychologically brutalize the population have been revealed, more than two decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

From 1950 onwards, the Stasi infiltrated almost every aspect of society and by the mid-1980s, a vast network of unofficial informants and full-time employees had been created. Some spouses spied on their partners, as did neighbors and friends. The ratio of 80,000 full-time agents to the 16 million people in the GDR was higher even than in Soviet Russia.

Defying the KGB: How a forgotten movement freed a people

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Germany's reunification the following year, most of the Stasi archives were opened to the public. Citizens can request their Stasi files from the BStU, revealing the meticulous surveillance they had been subjected to during the Cold War era.

The fact that Stasi spies had to try to look like ordinary people just shows that they had completely lost the connection to their citizens.
Simon Menner

Now the extent to which East Germans were being watched is documented in a new book by Simon Menner.

"People are fascinated by surveillance and secret services, but the public has little access to picture material showing the act of surveillance," the Berlin-based artist told CNN.

Watch: East Germany's spying system

In his book "Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives," Menner includes images that show the creative guises of Stasi personnel. "Most people would probably laugh seeing these pictures now. They look almost ridiculous," he said, "but they show a dark chapter of German history."

For more than two years, Menner, 35, went through thousands of images and documents at the archive of the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives of the former German Democratic Republic (BStU). "These images offer a glimpse into another world, an extinct culture, but it was a brutal system that showed no sympathy for its people," he said.

"The fact that Stasi spies had to try to look like ordinary people just shows that they had completely lost the connection to their citizens."

The aliases of people that spied on them are also in the files and on request the real names can be uncovered. Last month Peer Steinbrück, who is running against Angela Merkel in the race to be Germany's next chancellor released his Stasi file online, revealing that on his visits to the GDR a relative reportedly spied on him.

According to Menner, thousands of bags of Stasi images and documents are yet to be archived. "I have just scratched the surface and many secrets remain unknown."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 3, 2014 -- Updated 0145 GMT (0945 HKT)
ISIS has published a video titled "A second message to America," showing the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 0135 GMT (0935 HKT)
Three Americans detained in North Korea spoke out about their conditions and pleaded for U.S. help in interviews with CNN.
Hundreds of jihadis in Syria are from abroad -- which countries have the biggest problem?
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
CNN attends a funeral where mourners keep their distance.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0913 GMT (1713 HKT)
Libyan militia members have apparently turned the abandoned U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, into a water park.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
A few miles south of the town of Starobeshevo in eastern Ukraine, a group of men in uniform is slumped under a tree.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 0125 GMT (0925 HKT)
Beijing says only candidates approved by a nominating committee can run for Hong Kong's chief executive, prompting criticism.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0823 GMT (1623 HKT)
He should be toddling around a playground. Instead, his tiny hands grip an AK-47.
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 0023 GMT (0823 HKT)
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
In a major breach of privacy, a hacker leaked a series of pictures allegedly showing Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebrities in the nude.
Instead of weaving garments sold in the West, children should be in school
According to the International Labour Organization, there are 168 million child laborers around the world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT