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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 May 2006, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
The actor's wife and the Stasi files
The BBC's Ray Furlong
By Ray Furlong
BBC News, Berlin

A film about the old East German secret police has been making headlines in Germany after an actor alleged in an accompanying book that his former wife was a real-life Stasi informer.

A visitor to the Stasi archives walks through the files department in Berlin
The files of East Germany's secret police have been made public

There were more than 500 pages in the file in front of me.

Crisp, white photocopies of spidery handwritten reports and typed-up records of conversations that were put together 20 years ago.

I was in the reading room at the Berlin office where people come to view their Stasi files.

Hundreds of thousands of people have come here in the last 15 years to find out that their friends, neighbours or even family members had been secret police informers.

Now, one of these cases is dominating the German media and it had brought me here.

I flipped the page and was met with the beautiful young face of Jenny Grollmann, then a successful young actress, now a 59-year-old woman fighting cancer and battling for her honour.

Ms Grollmann has recently brought out a court injunction against a book in which her former husband, Ulrich Muhe, also an actor, accuses her of being a Stasi informer.

The Stasi file recorded with meticulous detail the meetings that Jenny Grollmann allegedly had with her Stasi controller
They were once the East German dream couple: stars of the East Berlin stage who fell in love while making a film - a love story, of course - and were married for six years.

But in real life there was no happy ending. They divorced, and as they now do battle over the past, the basis for the allegations lay in front of me on the table.

The Stasi file recorded with meticulous detail the meetings that Jenny Grollmann allegedly had with her Stasi controller.

Allegedly, because he has now said he made up many of the details in the file.

And Ms Grollmann was, he says, actually not aware that she was speaking to a Stasi agent.

The file does not contain anything signed by the actress. It says the agreement to work as an informer was "verbal".

Chilling portrayal

The allegations themselves are not even new, as they were first made by a German magazine five years ago.

A still from the film The Life of the Others
The film tells the story of a plot by the Stasi to discredit a playwright
Ms Grollmann only took legal action after her former husband broke his silence on the issue in connection with his latest role in a film, a drama called The Life of the Others.

In it, Mr Muhe plays a Stasi agent who recruits an actress to spy on her lover.

The film is a chilling and depressing portrayal of how fear and manipulation were used by the Stasi to control the people of East Germany. It has been widely praised for offering a fresh view of the past after a string of nostalgic comedies about life in the former GDR in recent years.

And in a book accompanying the film, Mr Muhe speaks about his sense of betrayal when he found out about his wife's alleged Stasi role.

If you buy the book now, you will find these sections of it blacked out owing to the court injunction.

The publishers are trying to get the injunction reversed. The director of the film has said that only when it is will the Stasi files really be open, because otherwise it is illegal to report what is in them.

Popular culture

The German media has largely taken Mr Muhe's side, crediting both him and the film with at last focusing attention on the dark truth about the East German police state.

The Berlin Wall in Autumn 1989
Nostalgia about life in East Germany has promoted a backlash
And it has led to something of a reaction against the way that East Germany has been portrayed in popular culture here.

Alongside those sentimental comedies, there have been light-hearted TV shows that dwelt lovingly on the quaint fashions of East Germany and the supposed joys of driving the boxy Trabant cars of the communist era.

Now though, the pendulum is swinging away from this amid a feeling that it is time for more serious reflection.

Last month there was an outcry when former Stasi officers, now pensioners, disrupted a gathering of former political prisoners.

The ex-Stasi men are organised in a shadowy group which disputes their image as sinister secret policemen. Instead, it says, they were guardians of a just system.

It seems that Germany - particularly in the East - is still mentally processing the history of the GDR.

Grey world

The director of The Life of the Others told me how audiences in the East had been energised after the film was shown.

"They were saying: 'This is exactly what we lived through,'" he said.

Mr Muhe has said that talking about his former wife is for him a necessary form of catharsis.

His detractors say it is a shameless way of promoting the film.

And so the row goes on.

Mr Muhe now lives in a fashionable upmarket side street in West Berlin. There is an antique shop, a boutique selling British designer labels, and a store with cashmere cloth.

Ms Grollmann lives in the parallel street, which is just as leafy and far removed from the grey world of communist East Berlin portrayed in The Life of the Others.

But that world is still casting its shadow on the ornate facades of the elegant streets where two of East Germany's most famous actors now live.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 11 May, 2006 at 1100 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

SEE ALSO
Stasi spy's son tells his story
07 May 04 |  Europe
Alleged Stasi assassin arrested
25 Sep 03 |  Europe
Files 'reveal Stasi spy'
16 Sep 00 |  UK News
Stasi files return to Germany
05 Apr 00 |  Europe
Country profile: Germany
15 Mar 06 |  Country profiles

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