Brief Biography of Anna Funder
Anna Funder was born in Australia and spent much of her childhood in Paris. She later studied at Freie University in Berlin, and received an MA from the University of Melbourne. She trained as a human rights lawyer, and worked for the Australian government throughout the 1980s and 90s, after which she turned to writing full-time. Her first book, Stasiland (2003) was awarded the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize, the world’s biggest monetary award for nonfiction writing in the English language, and her follow-up, the novel All That I Am (2011), was awarded the Miles Franklin Prize, the most prestigious award Australia offers.
Historical Context of Stasiland
The overarching historical event described in Stasiland is, of course, the rise of the East German state. In the years following World War Two, the Allied powers occupied the western half of Germany, while Soviet troops occupied the east. By the late 1940s, the Soviet Union had established a satellite Communist state in East Germany. Over the course of the next forty years, East Germany instituted a set of authoritarian policies, running surveillance on its own citizens and jailing dissidents and critics of the government. By the late 1980s, East Germany was in a state of near-collapse. In 1989, demonstrators tore down the Berlin Wall, erected in 1961 by East German troops to prevent East Germans from fleeing into West Berlin. In the early nineties, following the liberalization of the Soviet Union, East Germany collapsed, its leaders fled in disgrace, and Germany was reunified.
Other Books Related to Stasiland
Stasiland bears an interesting resemblance to several of the works of W.G. Sebald, especially The Emigrants (1992) and Austerlitz (2001). In his books—which, like Stasiland, are hard to categorize, blending elements of the novel, memoir, and personal essay—Sebald deals with themes of memory, guilt, and trauma, often set against the backdrop of 20th-century German history. Readers who enjoy Funder’s writing style and descriptions of being a wandering stranger in another country might enjoy Travels with Herodotus (2004), a collection of loosely-linked travel essays by the great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński.
Key Facts about Stasiland
- Full Title: Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall
- When Written: 2001-2003
- Where Written: Berlin, Melbourne, and London
- When Published: Fall 2003
- Literary Period: Contemporary
- Genre: Nonfiction, Cold War history
- Setting: Berlin and Leipzig
- Climax: Anna Funder reunites with Miriam Weber
- Antagonist: The East German state
- Point of View: First person (Funder)
Extra Credit for Stasiland
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Stasiland is a non-fiction account by Anna Funder of life in divided East Germany under the watch of the secret police, the Stasi. Told in a mixture of first-person memoir, reportage, and second-hand personal narratives from those both affected by and perpetrating the Stasi’s crimes, Stasiland gives a very human portrayal of life under a totalitarian regime.
Anna Funder, an Australian television producer who moves to Berlin in 1996, just a few years after the collapse of the wall, finds herself fascinated by the still strongly felt legacy of the Stasi on the nominally reunited country.
Anna meets Miriam Weber, who, at sixteen, tries to escape over the wall after becoming an enemy of the state for distributing pamphlets condemning the police’s mistreatment of protesters. She attempted her escape while awaiting trial, was caught, and imprisoned for 18 months. After her release she meets her husband Charlie, who himself is captured and dies in a Stasi prison.
She then learns that her landlord, Julia was watched by the Stasi due to her relationship with an Italian man. She finds herself covertly blocked from finding employment and, after getting raped right after the wall comes down, moves to San Francisco to escape the Stasi-induced trauma of her life in East Germany.
Anna also meets Frau Sigrid Paul, who after unsuccessfully trying to escape herself, becomes involved in an organization helping students escape East Berlin. Caught by the Stasi while her sick son languishes in a West Berlin hospital, Frau Paul refuses to inform on a friend, and is therefore blocked from seeing her son.
In light of these women’s stories, Anna takes out an ad in a paper seeking former Stasi officers and collaborators to interview and is overwhelmed with the response. In the course of her interviews, Anna finds that few of the former Stasi officers feel remorse, and many still cling to old values.
Anna interviews Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, who researched, wrote, and hosted “The Black Channel,” a series of weekly propaganda programs that vilified the West. Now seventy-nine, he still staunchly maintains his anti-western views and his commitment to communism.
Hagen Koch, the cartographer who drew the outline of the Berlin wall, tells his story of indoctrination and isolation from his own family. Koch’s father is forced into the Socialist Unity party in order to avoid further imprisonment, and must bring up Hagen with the party’s ideology in order to remain free. Thus indoctrinated, Hagen grows up as a “true believer” until his marriage, when he begins to question his beliefs. The Stasi refers to his wife as a “negative influence” and demand he leave her in order to get promoted. She is also coerced into leaving him by threatened charges of pornography that, if pursued, would have them separating her from her son. Hagen loses his job anyway after failing to report a visit from his father, and eventually remarries his wife after learning the truth. He is banned from attending his own father’s funeral due to the presence of a western relative. Hagen feels that he was betrayed by the Stasi despite his loyalty. He steals a commemorative plate awarded to his army unit, and refuses to return it after repeated requests. Koch clings to the plate as his act of defiance and autonomy, and feels it symbolizes the pettiness of the Stasi, who go so far as to establish a “Working Group on Plate Re-Procurement” to repossess it.
Anna’s friend, Klaus, presents another perspective. A member of a popular band in East Germany, his lyrics were critical of the East German government and the band was therefore banned and told they “no longer exist.” Gigs disappeared as did their recordings in the state record company’s catalog.
Herr Christian represents a non-ideologue. A border control agent, he never felt committed to the Stasi’s mission, but felt duty-bound to uphold their laws. Still somewhat obsessed with his former role, he now seeks work as a private detective, and appears to take his past very lightly when speaking with Anna, showing a lack of remorse or lasting damage, emotionally or professionally.
After her initial round of interviews, Anna is forced to leave Germany to be with her sick mother, and only returns to Berlin in 2000 after her mother’s death. She follows up with some of her subjects, including Hagen Koch, who works as a tour guide, explaining the history of the wall. He seems happy to relive the East’s past. Meanwhile, Julia has moved to San Francisco and is working in a feminist bookstore. She feels that they “honor their victims here” and therefore feels more at home than in Germany.
Finally, the book ends, at it begins, with a meeting with Miriam. While she seems more at peace, she still mourns that she feels she will never find out the truth about the death of her husband Charlie.
Funder’s very personal account of the lives of those affected by the Stasi showcases how fully totalitarian regimes can interfere with and ruin the lives of people on both sides of the ideological divide. And in this case, unfortunately Germany has not come to terms with its past, and very little justice has been brought for victims of the Stasi, whose alumni find their lives and ideology intact.