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Authors: Timothy Garton Ash

The File

BOOK: The File

The File

“Impeccable…. Garton Ash’s compassion for all those who live under totalitarian rule and are driven into moral contortions is admirable.”

The New York Review of Books

“As this century of murderous utopias draws to a close, we still understand remarkably little about what makes totalitarianism tick…. From Alexander Solzhenitsyn to Primo Levi, it is the literary chroniclers who have done the job most persuasively. Timothy Garton Ash is one such chronicler.”

The Wall Street Journal

“[Garton Ash’s] accounts of tracking down the enemies who betrayed him are riveting, but the names themselves dissolve into a deeply moving portrait of a state built on compromise and human weakness.”

The New Yorker

“Garton Ash can combine a journalist’s feel for the breaking story, for its drama and flow, with a historian’s sense of perspective. Genuinely provocative …
The File
is always engaging.”

Boston Globe

“Riveting … a moving book of simple, but uncommon virtues: erudition, clarity, honesty and humanity. An excellent piece of writing. This book will remind you of the beauty of freedom—and of the value of courage and decency in what is all-too-often an unfree world.”

Boston Globe

“A kind of meditation on Garton Ash’s personal experience with the Stasi, the dreaded secret police organ of the East German regime. No population was as closely watched for signs of dissidence, although Hoover’s FBI came fairly close at times. The book is fascinating in its unearthing of some terribly human monster whose eye always recorded the fall of every sparrow.”

—Arthur Miller

“The File
reads almost like a spy thriller. Its prose is fluid, its pace fast, and its tone an appealing combination of the light and the serious.”

Houston Chronicle

“Crisp and compelling … a thought-provoking glimpse of the Stasi’s all-too-human ambitions and weaknesses.”

—Baltimore Sun

“In this painstaking, powerful unmasking of evil, the wretched face of tyranny is revealed.”

—Philadelphia Inquirer

“Original, subtle and intriguing…. It’s easy to pass judgment from the safety of a democracy; can you or I be so sure that in a totalitarian state we would resist the shabby evil of reporting upon others if our job, the admittance of our children to school or university—that is to say, our everyday kind of survival—depended on it?”

—Nadine Gordimer

“This book combines two genres: it is a political thriller, reminiscent of Graham Greene and John le Carré, and a treatise on memory, forgetting, and forgiving in the great tradition of Proust.”

The New York Times Book Review

Table of Contents


Title Page


Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV


Permissions Acknowledgments

About the Author

Books by Timothy Garton Ash


D., T.

A Note on Names

nyms: Andrea, Claudia, Flash Harry, Frau Duncker and Frau R. Three informers are identified only by their Stasi aliases: “Michaela,” “Schuldt” and “Smith.” If anyone might be tempted to expose the real people behind these names—which in several cases would not be difficult—I would ask for restraint from doing so, for reasons that should become clear.

a very interesting file.” And there it is, a buff-colored binder, some two inches thick, rubber-stamped on the front cover:
OPK-Akte, Mfs, XV
Underneath is written, in a neat, clerical hand: “Romeo.”


“Yes, that was your code name,” says Frau Schulz, and giggles.

Schulz’s cramped room in the Federal Authority for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic: the ministry of the files. As I open the binder, I find myself thinking of an odd moment in my East German life.

One night in 1980, when I was living as a student in East Berlin, I came back with a girlfriend to my room in a crumbling Wilhelmine tenement house in the borough of Prenzlauer Berg. This was a room with a view: a view into it. Large French windows gave directly onto a balcony, and, were it not for the net curtains, people living across the street could look straight in.

As we embraced on the narrow bed, Andrea suddenly pulled away, finished undressing, went over to the window and threw open the net curtains. She turned on the glaring main light and then came back to me. Had this been, say, Oxford, I might have been a little surprised about the bright light and the open curtains. But this was Berlin, so I thought no more about it.

Until, that is, I learned about the Stasi file. Then I remembered this moment and started wondering whether
Andrea had been working for the Stasi and whether she had opened the curtains so we could be photographed from the other side of the street.

Perhaps those photographs are now lurking in this binder, which Frau Schulz has already inspected. What was it she said? “You have a very interesting file.”

, I’
that there are no such photographs here and that Andrea does not appear as an informer. But there are other things that touch me.

Here, for example, is an observation report describing a visit I apparently paid to East Berlin on 06.10.79 from 16.07 hours to 23.55 hours. The alias given me by the Stasi at this date was, less romantically, “246816.”

16.07 hours

“246816” was taken up for observation after leaving the Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse frontier crossing. The person to be observed went to the newspaper stand in the upper station concourse and bought a
Freie Welt
, a
Neues Deutschland
and a
Berliner Zeitung
. Then the object [that’s me] walked questingly around the station.

16.15 hours

in the upper station concourse “246816” greeted a female person with handshake and kiss on the cheek. This female person received the code name “Beret.” “Beret” carried a dark brown shoulder bag. Both left
the station and went, conversing, to the Berliner Ensemble on Brechtplatz.

16.25 hours

both entered the restaurant



Am Schiffbauerdamm

After ca. 2 minutes the persons to be observed left the restaurant and went via Friedrichstrasse and Unter den Linden to the Operncafé.

16.52 hours

“246816” and “Beret” entered the restaurant



Unter den Linden

They took seats in the café and drank coffee.

18.45 hours

They left the café and went to Bebelplatz. In the time from

18.45 hours


20.40 hours

They both watched with interest the torchlit procession to honor the 30th anniversary of the GDR. Thereafter “246816” and “Beret” went along the street Unter den Linden [and] Friedrichstrasse to the street Am Schiffbauerdamm.

21.10 hours

they entered there the restaurant Ganymed. In the restaurant they were not under observation.

23.50 hours

both left the gastronomic establishment and proceeded directly to the departure hall of the Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse frontier crossing, which they

23.55 hours

entered. “Beret” was passed on to Main Department VI for documentation. The surveillance was terminated.

Person-description of object “246816”

20–25 years
ca. 1.75m
dark blond
green jacket
blue polo-neck pullover
brown cord trousers

Person-description of connection “Beret”

30–35 years
medium blond
dark blue cloth coat
red beret
blue jeans
black boots
dark brown handbag

I sit there, at the plastic-wood table, marveling at this minutely detailed reconstruction of a day in my life and at the style that recalls a school exercise: never a sentence without a verb, the pretentious variation of “gastronomic establishment.” I remember the slovenly gilt-and-red Ganymed, the plush Operncafé, and the blue-shirted, pimpled youths in the thirtieth-anniversary march-past, their paraffin-soaked torches trailing sparks in the misty night air. I smell again that peculiar East Berlin smell, a compound of the smoke from old boilers burning compressed coal-dust briquettes, exhaust fumes from the two-stroke engines of the little Trabant cars, cheap East European cigarettes, damp boots and sweat. But one thing I simply can’t remember: who was she, my Little Red Riding-Hood? Or not so little: 1.75–1.78 meters, that’s nearly my height. Slim, medium blond, curly hair, 30–35, black boots? I sit there, under Frau Schulz’s inquisitive eye, sensing an awful disloyalty to my own past.

Only when I get home, right home, to Oxford, do I find out who she was—by reading my own diary from that time. In fact, I discover the whole record of a short, intense, unhappy romance: of days and nights, of telephone calls and letters. Why, here at the back of the diary are two of her letters, carefully kept in their envelopes, with a postmark that says “Post—so you keep in touch.” Folded inside one of the letters is a black-and-white photograph that she sent me when it was all over, to remember
her by. Tousled hair, high cheekbones, a rather tense smile. How could I have forgotten?

My diary for that day in October 1979 has Claudia “cheeky in red beret and blue uniform raincoat.” “Over Friedrichstrasse,” it says, “searched down to the soles of my shoes (Duckers. Officer very impressed).” Now I remember how, at the underground checkpoint beneath the Friedrichstrasse railway station, a gray-uniformed officer took me into a curtained cubicle, made me empty the contents of my pockets onto a small table, examined each item minutely and even questioned me about individual entries in my pocket diary. He then ordered me to take off my heavy brown leather shoes, from Ducker & Son of Turl Street. Peering inside and then weighing them in his hand he said, “Very good shoes.”

“Arm-in-arm, cheek-to-cheek w. [Claudia] to Operncafé,” the diary goes on. “Becoming yet more intimate … The torchlit procession. The cold, cold east wind. Our warmth. The maze—encircled. Slipping through the columns, evading the policemen. Finally to ‘Ganymed.’ Tolerable dinner. C. re. her ‘Jobben.’ Her political activity. We cross back via Friedrichstr. To Diener’s … C0300 at Uhlandstr. Daniel, desperate and pale-faced before the flat door—locked out!”

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