Fritz Rudolf Fries was outed as a Stasi informant in 1996. He began working as an informant for the Ministry for State Security in 1972, initially as an IM, then as a trustworthy IMV, next as an even more trusted IMS, and finally as a totally reliable IMB, one of the highest levels in the ranks of Stasi informants. He worked for the Stasi until at least 1985, under the code name “Pedro Hagen” and under the watchful eye of his handler, First Lieutenant/Captain Gerhard Hoffmann. Fries informed on other authors and persons of interest like myself; he passed along information gathered at receptions in embassies and gatherings in private homes, and he dutifully carried out his assignments both at home and abroad. His main reward, as far as I can tell, was the privilege of travelling to non-socialist countries; he was a passionate traveller, so this perquisite was particularly important to him. In Alle meine Hotel Leben: Reisen 1957-1979 (All My Hotel Lives: Travels 1957-1979, 1980), Fries reflects in short impressionistic prose texts on his travels to faraway places such as Cuba, Argentina, Albania, Poland, Slovakia, Barcelona, Bruges, Paris and Normandy, as well as to some destinations close to home, such as Leipzig and Zwickau. In each of these fifteen prose pieces, his love of travel is on full display. His carefully crafted texts bring to life places in foreign countries that most GDR citizens would never have been able to visit.
In his 320-page memoir, Diogenes auf der Parkbank (Diogenes on the Park Bench, Berlin: Das Neue Berlin, 2002), Fries uses humor, hyperbole, sarcasm, and even self-pity to rationalize his decision to work for the Stasi and downplay its importance. In a section titled Operativer Vorgang “Autor” (Operative Activity “Author”), he compares himself to Faust who entered into a pact with the devil. Fries’s devil, of course, is his Stasi handler. In an effort to defend himself and his despicable actions in the presence of real and imagined accusers who ask “How could you?”, he writes about himself in the third person, unable to use the personal pronoun “I” as he does in other sections of the book. Perhaps he is trying to distance himself from Fritz Rudolf Fries, the informant.
Was war es, dass er den “Pakt mit dem Teufel” unterschrieb, nach fast zehnjähriger Verweigerung, und sich, zum Jux, mit Faust verglich? Nun hatte er gestundete Zeit, und er würde sagen und schreiben können, was er wolle—sofern (und daran dachte er zunächst kaum) er den Teufel mit kleinen Brosamen zufriedenstellte. Er würde endlich reisen können, Spanien war sein Ziel. Von schleichender Krankheit bedroht (er weist auf seine Krücken) seien diese Jahre die einzigen, die ihm noch grössere Reisen erlaubten. Und: Was genau wollte denn der Teufel? Er wollte Auskunft über die Verhältnisse in Spanien nach Francos Tod. Das zu liefern sei kein Vergehen gewesen, diente es doch dazu, die diplomatischen Beziehungen zwischen der DDR und Spanien aufzubauen. Etliche seiner Kollegen und Verwandten konnten daraufhin privat und dienstlich nach Spanien reisen . . . Und je mehr die DDR diplomatische Anerkennung fand, desto mehr wurde sie ein Opfer ihrer Widersprüche. [. . .] Wem konnte es schaden, wenn er nach einer Reise seinem Führungsoffizier einen Bericht gab, mündlich, den er schriftlich dem Schriftstellerverband oder dem PEN Zentrum zu geben verpflichtet war. (238)
What led him to sign the “pact with the devil” after refusing to do so for almost ten years and, in jest, to compare himself to Faust? Now he was on borrowed time and would be able to say and write what he wanted—provided that (and initially he hardly thought about it) he satisfied the devil with little breadcrumbs. He would finally be able to travel, Spain was his objective. He was threatened by an insidious disease (he exhibits his crutches) that would make these years the only ones in which he would be capable of longer journeys. And: What precisely did the devil want? He wanted information on the state of affairs in Spain after Franco’s death. Providing that would not have been an offence; after all it served to build up diplomatic relations between the GDR and Spain. A number of his colleagues and relatives would later on be able to travel privately and on business to Spain . . . And the more diplomatic recognition the GDR would gain, the more it would become a victim of its inconsistencies. [. . .] Whom could it harm if he gave his case officer a report, orally, after returning from a trip, the report he was obliged to give in written form to the Writers’ Union or the PEN Center.
Fries’s effort to present himself as innocent of any real wrongdoing is not convincing, and it is clear that he too is not convinced of his innocence. The final section of the book, In einem anderen Land (In Another Country), finds him on vacation in Sri Lanka. The last paragraph, in which he may indirectly be admitting that he erred and asking for forgiveness, reads:
Die Buddhisten glauben an eine Wiedergeburt. Je nach der Schuld, die wir in diesem Leben angehäuft haben, erreichen wir im nächsten Leben eine höhere oder niedrigere Daseinsform. Es ist eine grosse Geste des Verzeihens in dieser Lehre, und die Mahnung, sein Leben in jeder Stufe bewusst zu leben.
The Buddhists believe in reincarnation. Depending on the sins that we have amassed during this life, we will attain a higher or lower form of being in the next life. There is a grand gesture of forgiveness in this teaching, and the reminder to live every stage of one’s life consciously.
Fries, who died in December 2014, never apologized for his career as an informant and probably did not have any real regrets, except for being outed and this: despite the fact that he was an accomplished fiction writer, essayist, and editor, one will always think of him as an informant first and then as a writer. That is a punishment he most assuredly earned and deserves.