East German jokes as a political barometer for West German intelligence
What's a three-eighths joke? - Three years in prison for the guy who heard it and eight years for the guy who told it! West Germany filed away hundreds of jokes like this one to track the political mood in East Germany.
Quit stallin' and get to the first joke
East Germans faced imprisonment for "subversive provocation," including laughing at the state. This one about two GDR leaders landed one man before a judge in 1956. "Pieck and Grotewohl are visiting Stalin in Moscow. Stalin gives them a car. But when they want to leave, they realize the car doesn't have a motor. Stalin goes: You don't need a motor if you're already going downhill."
Prisons have only so many cells
The 2015 book "Ausgelacht - DDR Witze aus den Geheimakten des BND" ("Taking the Piss") looks at the secret West German files on East German humor, which were first made public in 2009. Its authors say that high incarceration rates in the 1960s might have meant fewer sentences for "bad" jokes. They note that by the 1970s, even some politicians risked laughing in public at the government's expense .
In every corny joke lies a kernel of truth
"Older East German residents are going to receive new, bigger IDs. Otherwise, they won't be able to fit their long faces into the photos." Top secret files documenting these jokes landed on many West German desks, including the chancellor's, the foreign minister's and the interior minister's. As time went on, the humor revealed more about political discontent in the communist East.
From the childish...
"Erich Honecker (pictured right) got a divorce. The reason: Gorbachev kisses better than his wife, Margot. Margot Honecker got a divorce. The reason: She doesn't think that all of Erich's hickies are from 'Gorbi.'"
...to the silly...
"Why do police always have a dog with them? - So that at least one of them is educated."
...to the sad but true...
Bare shelves in the grocery store and year-long waits for other goods were common experiences in the GDR. "Why don't criminals take hostages in East Germany? - What kind of criminal would wait 14 years for a getaway car?"
...to the macabre
"Erich Honecker and Günter Mittag want to jump from the top of the East Berlin Television tower. Who do you think will land first? - Who cares as long as they jump?"
As if the secret files weren't enough
Rumors have abounded about where the jokes really originated, from theories that point to East Germany trying to keep up morale, to West Germany undermining the communist state's power. According to "Ausgelacht" authors Hans-Hermann Hertle and Hans-Wilhelm Saure, the German intelligence agency has denied doing anything more than compiling the knee-slappers.