october 26, 2009.

leipzig trabant

The almost tropical feel of this picture (click to enlarge) of a customized yellow Trabant on the roof of the workshop of a small sandblasting company installed on the Schulze-Delitzsch-Straße, near the railway tracks in Leipzig-Neustadt, is in sharp contrast with much of the desolate grayness of that part of town. In most of the streets half of the apartment buildings are empty. They are in ruins, on the verge of falling down and over; or they are for sale. Or both.
And it's not only apartment buildings that you'll find in ruins; there's abandoned old factories abound, and also many a once monumental school or other public building stands patiently waiting only for time to bring it down.

I chanced upon a (former?) music store - Musik Hans Tappert - in the same area, in the Rosa Luxemburg Straße. (Click the picture to enlarge)

hans tappert store

In the left shop window a handful of covers of classical music vinyl gramophone records remained ("Hunting scenes of old Czech Masters", "Dvorak - Cello Concerto in B minor", "Elly Ameling - Belcanto Arien" ...). The cardboard covers were crinkled and bent. Long exposure to the outside light had made also most of the colors disappear, so that now they all were of a very pale blue. In the right shop window some dozen of music books stood fading away, like "Chart Hits" (including a Rod Stewart song) and music instruction books with the same canonical titles that one finds all over the world ("Music wird lebendig", "Hören, Singen, Musizieren" ...). In two of three windows there stood a plastic plant, a remnant of the decoration. Both of them, curiously, still had very lively colors.

hans tappert store hans tappert store

Twenty years ago it were the people in Leipzig that - in september and october 1989 - initiated the ever more massive monday demonstrations in East Germany. These were the weekly peaceful protests against the authoritarian government that culminated in the fall of the Berlin wall on november 9th, 1989, and (in 1990) the collapse of the DDR, the German Democratic Republic, that for some forty years had sailed the political and ideological course set by the communist comrades in Moscow. As from a practical point of view communism failed dramatically to live up to its theoretical promise, to survive as a state the DDR needed to seal off hermetically all of its borders with the western part of Europe in order to stop large-scale emigration of its citizens to more prosperous and liberal capitalist parts of the world. Even more so than the other eastern bloc countries, as geographically and historyically the DDR was embedded in the capitalist west.

Visiting Leipzig twenty years after die Wende it is obvious how much the DDR-specter continues to haunt this part of Germany.minisec The fascinating Stasi Museum "Runde Ecke", that I visited on monday october 19th with Tobias and Bea, reads as one long, breathless attempt to charm the many ghosts from those authoritarian days. It is situated on the first floor of the former Leipzig Stasi headquarters, the Bezirksverwaltung für Staatssicherheit Leipzig. That is, the Leipzig branch of the Ministry of State Security: the Minisec (to borrow George Orwell's newspeak), and indeed one that easily lived up to its fictional namesakes. The Minisec had as its main task to keep a close watch on the DDR-population in order to spot dissident individuals and groups: those that seemed to have suspicious sympathies, that might nurture ideological deviations, tried to establish or already had western contacts, or that otherwise had the making of 'working class enemies'. Over the years of its existence an enormous staff of official Minisec officers plus a large number of unofficial but fully employed collaborators, together with several hundreds of thousands of regular informers knitted a net with meshes so fine that it is estimated that there must have been on the average one Stasi spy for every 90 DDR-citizens. Were one also to include the many occasional informers, the figures are even more frightening.

The exposition in der Runden Ecke includes much of the equipment the Stasi agents used in their daily routine. Like custom-made steam blowers to open up mail, and glue & press machines to close the envelopes again after due inspection. Much of it has an undeniable retro- and vintage look, and I found it difficult not to imagine I was looking at the props for an early series of episodes of a television series like Mission Impossible. A lot of the things at display, like Stasi disguise kits, with fake noses and wigs, would have been pretty hilarious, were it not for the very real harm that was done, and the many people's lives that were destroyed by the East-German Minisec.

disguise disguise

Over the years the equipment used for photographing and filming people, for bugging houses and tapping telephone lines, continued to evolve, as did the voluminous installations that were used to record these conversations. Onto audio-cassettes. Below is a picture of the recording installation as it was functioning in Leipzig late 1989, just before die Wende.

telephone taps

And now here's a small detail. It is just a little fait divers, but I think it is one that kills :-) ... Audio cassettes were not a thing easy to get by in those days in large quantities in the eastern parts of Europe. So for the recording of the conversations that passed on the telephone lines that the Stasi tapped, they made abundant use of cassette tapes that were found in the mail sent over as presents from the west. Stasi officers were full time stationed to check upon all passing mail, incoming as well as outgoing (always in pairs, for of course no one could be trusted). Tapes found in the mail were removed, put aside, and given a number. What was on it, was erased. In the stack of confiscated tapes shown in the museum (the left picture below) some of the cassettes that are identifiable contain West German popular music (Schlagers) - Heino is on top - and many of them German Christmas songs and music.

stasi confiscated cassettes telephone recordings equipment

These stolen Frohe Weihnachten and Heino musicassettes eventually would end up in one of the CAG-A recorders that you see in the right picture above. The recorded conversations were afterwards transcribed onto paper, and the written reports went their way onward in the Stasi bureaucracy.

The tapes then were erased, and used again. And again ...

[ The website of the Leipziger Stasi Museum In der Runden Ecke comes with an online searchable database, which is continuously being added to, and at the moment contains more than 1000 Stasi objects, including all of the 'spy equipment' mentioned above, with pictures and very detailed descriptions of their use and functioning. For the moment all of that is in German only, though. ]

previous Leipzig entry : Founded Tapapes || next Leipzig entry : Penelope Audela: das leipziger kleine  ]

tags: cassettes, stasi, Leipzig

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