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Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 23:04 GMT
What the Stasi knew on our man
Stasi files Tonnes of files were compiled by the Stasi

By European affairs expert Mark Brayne

Amid all the celebrations remembering the opening of the Berlin Wall 10 years ago, there has been much reminiscing about the communist systems that came crashing down with that structure.

Communism - the end of an era
Correspondents referred to the extraordinary amount of internal surveillance that used to go on of the citizens of East and Central Europe.

But it was not just their own people that these regimes used to spy on. Foreign journalists posted to the region were scrutinised very closely.

What did they know?

For nearly 30 years now, since I first spent time in East Germany as an undergraduate, I have wondered just how much the Stasi knew about me and my East German friends.

Berlin Wall The Berlin Wall 'had ears'
I had always assumed the worst - every telephone call bugged, every conversation monitored, every movement photographed.

I had, after all, lived a very full life among the East Germans. I was a busy and keen young correspondent.

But I also used to cycle on a tandem around East Germany, and often back and forth across the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie.

I sang for four happy years in the East Berlin Cathedral choir; rehearsals every week, public performances, and a rich circle of ordinary East German friends. All very suspicious.

60cm pile

After a day wading through my Stasi files, I now know that the Ministry for State Security of the German Democratic Republic did indeed take a close interest in me - 2573 pages of interest to be precise.

Erich Miehlke Erich Miehlke used to be Stasi boss
It made a pile 60cm high on the little desk where, at the top of an old East German office block in central East Berlin, the united German authority that now administers the Stasi files invites those who were once watched to come and turn the tables on the watchers.

They knew a lot about me, but I was also amazed at how much they did not know.

The Stasi filed me away under the code name "Martin". Predictably, they suspected that I was a British spy - although several times as my seven-hour reading stint progressed, I found the frustrated observation that "so far no proof has been found".

Equally predictably, there are several observations that "Martin" was a thoroughly bourgeois correspondent, engaged in anti-socialist, tendentious and slanderous reporting.

Every boring question noted

There are transcripts of telephone calls I used to make with diplomats or other journalists to talk about the news stories of the day, and there are long detailed lists of those whom I was preparing to invite to dinner parties and receptions - prefaced by the delightful Stasi sourcing, "as has become reliably known from unofficial sources".

Checkpoint Charlie Mark Brayne used to cycle through Checkpoint Charlie
There are extraordinarily detailed accounts of lunchtime conversations with some of my official and semi-official East German contacts. I must say, I had assumed - correctly I now know - that they would be reporting back.

I certainly used to ask some pretty boring questions; all were faithfully noted.

One official informer even drew for the files a couple of sketch maps of my BBC office and home in West Berlin, which he had visited on an unusual trip to the West.

Clandestine photos

Another noted, in 1979, that I did not think much of Mrs Thatcher.

I found meticulous observation reports with clandestine photographs of a rather younger and long-haired "Martin" on trips I made to provincial cities: "The observation object halted at the traffic lights, scratched the back of his head, indicated left and proceeded, careful it seems not to violate traffic regulations."

But at the same time, what really astonished me about these files is how little detail the Stasi seems to have recorded about what I was up to in my private life - and how none of my friends seem to have betrayed me. Indeed one - of whom I had been most suspicious - turns out to have twice rejected their approaches.

But my favourite report is the first long one, more than 20 pages, written after I had been in East Germany for just over a year.

Excellent résumé

"In the short time that he has been in our country," my case officer recorded, "Martin has built up a comprehensive network of contacts with GDR citizens from all social strata.

"His great intensity of work, his qualities of character and spirit (lively personality, widely educated, energetic and sociable person) enable him to make contact with anyone very quickly.

"Martin covers a relatively broad range of events in the GDR. He is always on the lookout for sensation or news, and spends days doggedly pursuing even the slightest tip, in order to be the first journalist to report the story. And he is often successful."

I do not think I could ever have asked for a better testimonial - but I cannot honestly say that I expected to find that in my Stasi files.

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See also:
20 Sep 99 |  Britain betrayed
Fearsome Stasi held nation in its grip
25 May 99 |  Europe
Dissidents say Stasi gave them cancer
20 Sep 99 |  Britain betrayed
Respected lecturer's double life

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