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
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1435 GMT (2235 HKT)
Hamas' tactics have changed -- now the group is using commando-like tactics, says CNN's Ben Wedeman.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A nun, an AIDS researcher, an athlete and a family traveling on summer vacation. These were some of the victims aboard MH17.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 0021 GMT (0821 HKT)
Prince George isn't your average one year old. He started walking before he was one. Oh, and, he's going to be king -- of 16 countries.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1136 GMT (1936 HKT)
Former President Bill Clinton acknowledges he got "very close" to helping achieve peace in the Middle East.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 0621 GMT (1421 HKT)
In an ambitious plan to upgrade urban India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he will build 100 "smart cities" across the country.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Inspirational, creepy or just weird? CNN meets the 51-year-old man who dresses like a schoolgirl.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
A British nanotech company has created what it says is the world's darkest material.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1112 GMT (1912 HKT)
Yoga, meditation and watching a snake eat a frog alive: these are some of the experiences to be had at this Himalayan yoga retreat.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1152 GMT (1952 HKT)
The world's largest flying aquatic insect, with huge, nightmarish pincers, has been discovered in China's Sichuan province, experts say.
ADVERTISEMENT