29. Return to East Berlin as an IREX Scholar: October, 1977

The IREX grant I was awarded in the spring of 1977 enabled me to return to the GDR for three months, in order to complete the work on my book project that had to be carried out in the GDR. IREX officials allowed me to divide my stay into two parts, as follows: two months in the fall/winter of 1977, and one month in the spring/summer of 1978. I was worried that I would not be able to accomplish everything that still needed to be done in the GDR in a single three-month stay, hence my request to spend two months there  initially and then return for one month a half year later. As it turned out, this plan worked out very well.

On October 15, 1977, with the approval of the GDR Ministry of Higher Education and sponsorship of the Humboldt University, I returned to East Berlin as an IREX scholar. The Humboldt University provided me free of charge with a very modest studio apartment in a dreary highrise building in a settlement known then as the “Hans-Loch-Viertel.” The Hans-Loch-Quarter, named after the former GDR Minister of Finance, was situated in the locality of Friedrichsfelde, in the district of Lichtenberg, not far from the Friedrichsfelde Zoo. This neighborhood was not very close to the center of East Berlin, Berlin Mitte, but the Friedrichsfelde subway station was nearby and I had wisely purchased an older Volkswagen in West Berlin, so I would not be dependent on public transportation. In accordance with their exchange agreement with IREX, the GDR provided me with a stipend in the amount of 700 East German marks per month. There was a bugged telephone in my apartment, which I could use free of charge for calls within the GDR. I also had a special multiple-entry visa, which as an IREX scholar I received free of charge, that permitted me to go back and forth as often as I wished between East and West Berlin. This enabled me to visit friends in West Berlin now and then, also to go shopping for myself and for my East German friends who needed or wanted items that were not available in the GDR. Some of the items I procured for others were jeans, fresh fruit (especially bananas), white asparagus, smoked eel, wines from France, books by West German and US authors, replacement parts for appliances that had been manufactured in West Germany, and even toilet paper (which now and then was in short supply in the GDR).

As an IREX scholar, I was assigned a “Betreuer” or minder by the name of Anneliese Löffler, a professor of GDR literature at the Humboldt University and an opportunistic SED Party loyalist. Löffler (code name IM “Dölbl”) was rumored to have close ties to the Stasi, and several writers warned me to be careful in conversations with her and not to trust her. When the Stasi archives were opened in the 1990s, the exact nature and extent of her involvement with the secret police became known—and it was substantial. In order to advance her career, Löffler became an important source of information for the Stasi in the early 1970s. She informed on and denounced many GDR writers, carried out special assignments for the Stasi, and also used her influence as book reviewer (“Gutachterin”) to prevent literary works she considered politically incorrect from being published; hence, she wielded a lot of power and influence. Her assignment this time was to keep a watchful eye on me and find out as much as possible about my book, also to get a look at the manuscript. The Stasi would rely heavily on her to assess the potential damage my book could do to the GDR’s image when published. I purposely had very little contact with Löffler during my two-month stay in East Berlin, and her reports to the Stasi reflect a great deal of frustration.