“The Stasi Kept a File on Me!”

Dr. Richard Zipser’s Memoir

Cover-VanOberlinImagine being a young American scholar of German literature between 1974 and 1990. Germany was a divided nation, and had been since the end of World War II.  West Germany was a NATO aligned federal republic, while East Germany existed as The German Democratic Republic (GDR), a socialist state aligned with (and a satellite of) the Soviet Union. What if you wanted to study East German writers? What would the challenges be?

Richard Zipser’s interest in GDR literature was awakened in the spring of 1974, when prominent East German prose writer Christa Wolf spent six weeks as German writer-in-residence in Oberlin College in Ohio, where Zipser taught. She was accompanied by her husband Gerhard, a well-known literary scholar and editor with connections to many contemporary GDR writers and publishers. Richard Zipser spent a lot of time with the Wolfs while they were in Oberlin, and they introduced him to the GDR literary scene through selected readings and conversations. The Wolfs encouraged him to think about doing a sabbatical project on GDR writing in the 1970s and promised to assist him.

In the spring of 1975, another prominent East German writer—Ulrich Plenzdorf—came to Oberlin as writer-in-residence. Plenzdorf and Zipser became good friends that semester, and Plenzdorf helped Zipser finalize plans for his sabbatical leave, a good portion of which he intended to spend in the GDR. His plan was to produce a book that would introduce readers to the leading East German writers of the day, especially to those who were shaping the new sociocritical direction of writing during the 1970s.

Imagine now that it is decades later. The Berlin Wall has fallen. East Germany and West Germany have reunited. The GDR has become a thing of the past, and the newly reunified German government has decided to open up, to the world, the files of the infamous Stasi, (or Staatssicherheit; literally: State Security), the secret police of East Germany during its time as a Soviet socialist country.

Imagine that you discover, as Richard Zipser did, that the Stasi kept tabs on him throughout his time in the GDR and that, in fact, a huge Stasi file of his activities exists. Imagine discovering that you were at one point labeled an “enemy of the state”, and thought to be a CIA espionage agent for the United States.

Imagine no more. You can read Dr. Zipser’s Stasi file in its entirety within the pages of this documentary memoir, Remembering East Germany: From Oberlin to East Berlin. Enjoy.

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