Page 32. " I think of the old TV series 'Prisoner', set in a women's prison: clanging metal gates before each ad break "

In the UK, this Australian television series was known as Prisoner: Cell Block H

Page 34. " Charlie didn't feel that he could represent to his students the state that was doing this to him. He left teaching and started to write. He wrote articles for the magazine Eulenspiegel, and treatments for television programs. "

Eulenspiegel was the most popular magazine, and the only satirical magazine, in the GDR, where state censorship was widespread. Aber sprechen Sie Deutsch? Then the good news is, it's still running today.

Page 34. " One of them was up a ladder searching the bookshelves when he found Orwell's Animal Farm, which, of course, was blacklisted. We held our breath as he pulled it off the shelf. "

Despite statements to the contrary in the East German constitution, as a one-party state the authorities had the power to control the media and printing industries. All publications were subject to government controls: criticism of communism or the GDR was not tolerated, along with taboo subjects such as homosexuality, pornography and any portrayal of East Germans as alcoholic, violent, depressive or suicidal.

The books of George Orwell have enormous resonance in this era. In this interview from The Independent (extract below), Anna Funder relates a telling detail of Stasi chief Erich Mielke's own private fascination with Orwell.

            The people of the GDR lived through their own private Nineteen Eighty-Four every single day. Funder describes Orwell's book as "like a manual for the GDR, right down to the most incredible detail". The party, if not the proles, knew that very well. She remembers that the much-dreaded Stasi chief Erich Mielke even managed to renumber the offices in the secret-service headquarters. "His office was on the second floor, so all the office numbers started with '2'. Orwell was banned in the GDR, but he would have had access to it. Because he so wanted the room number to be 101, he had the entire first floor renamed the mezzanine, and so his office was Room 101."

On page 133, Anna Funder writes about her interview with key Communist propagandist, Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler who professes a deep dislike of the television programme, Big Brother. Funder wonders whether it is the Orwellian overtones of the show that makes it especially repugnant in his eyes.


Page 35. " 'I was prohibited from studying. And I couldn't get any kind of job at all,' Miriam says. "

Many ex-Stasi men thrived after the Wall came down, largely because they had been well educated and had a solid history of work, as this extract from an article in The Independent explains:

           The creeps and bullies aside, many of the Stasi agents come across as disturbingly normal folk. With their sound career records, plenty of lower-level Stasi operatives did well in the reunited Germany. It's no surprise that they flourished in sectors such as marketing and insurance, which can involve a measure of deception or disguise. And, yes, some of them did become estate agents.

Page 46. " 'That's one thing I love to do. I love to drive up to the Runde Ecke and park right outside. I just sit there in the car and I feel...triumph!' Miriam makes a gesture which starts as a wave, and becomes a guillotine. 'You lot are gone.' "

Gedenkstätte Museum in der Runden Ecke
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGedenkstätte Museum in der Runden Ecke - Credit: Appaloosa
Runde Ecke translates as the 'rounded corner', and is the name for the building which housed the Stasi offices in Leipzig. It is now the Gedenkstätte Museum in der Runden Ecke, also commonly known as the Leipzig Stasi Museum.

Page 47. " My building is covered in grey sprayed-on concrete "
Typical East German plattenbau
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeTypical East German plattenbau - Credit: Michael Sander

The term plattenbau (platte meaning panel, bau meaning building) refers to these type of buildings, constructed from large prefabricated concrete slabs. This is typical of East German housing after the 1960s, which was made cheaply and as quickly as possible to meet the demand for housing. The intention in the Eastern Bloc – or rather, the ideal – was to provide housing for all, alongside schools and shops, calculated according to need.