We have now come full circle, back to my starting point, the day when my Stasi-file showed up unexpectedly in my mailbox. The file has enabled me to relive some important stages of my life and my academic career in ways that would not have been possible without such a document. It also enabled me to rediscover the person I was in the 1970s and 1980s, and I learned a great deal about myself through the eyes and observations of others. I also realized that my experiences in the GDR and interactions with East German writers, bureaucrats, and regular citizens—especially in the 1970s and 1980s—transformed me gradually into a different human being, into a more compassionate and politically-aware person with a more comprehensive and conservative world view. And, I think the process of reading my file and the Fries/Zipser file, assimilating and reflecting on the contents of those unusual documents, and then writing this memoir, has been transformative as well.
By sharing much of the file with readers of this book, I hope to provide them with unique insights into cultural-political, literary, and everyday life in the GDR. Few if any Americans have experienced the GDR as I did, and I am pleased to share some of my experiences and memories so others can gain a better understanding of what life was like in the actually existing GDR, the country with a forty-year history that no longer exists.