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Interest in the East

DW staff (nda)July 3, 2007

More and more Germans are applying year-on-year for access to the East German secret service -- Stasi -- files, a new report published Tuesday claims. The overall interest in all things GDR is also on the rise.

Keeping tabs: The Stasi files are attracting more visitors every yearImage: AP

The number of Germans wanting to see the files the former East German secret service kept on them has increased, a report released in Berlin on Tuesday found. According to the annual report, around 97,000 Germans applied for access to their Stasi files in 2006, an increase of 20 percent from the previous year.

Marianne Birthler, the government official in charge of the Stasi files archive, said that the number of people wanting to see their files was just one aspect of the overall increase in interest in the history of East Germany. The trend, she said, was continuing into 2007 with more than 7,000 people per month applying for access to files.

Birthler said that the increase in interest was also on the rise in schools.

"We have a new generation of people who have questions," she said at the report's launch.

A big draw

Stasi Museum in Berlin
An installation at the Stasi Museum in BerlinImage: Presse

Interest in the GDR and the Stasi in the west is also on the increase thanks to a wave of historical and fictional publications on the East and successful German films such as 1999's "Sonnenallee" and 2007's Oscar-winning "Das Leben der Anderen" (The Lives of Others).

Birthler believes that there is not as much stigma attached to the Stasi files as before, prompting more people to come forward to read their own. There is also a desire to learn how the East German regime operated and the GDR's role in the wider history of Germany.

Older generation still harbors suspicions

Marianne Birthler
Birthler's colleagues were investigatedImage: AP

While time and shifts in perception and culture continue to slowly change the way the Stasi and its activities are seen by younger Germans, many who lived under the communist regime still hold deep-rooted suspicions of those once involved with the secret service.

Birthler's own department was the subject of an investigation last year after it was revealed that former Stasi operatives had been employed there.

Birthler rejected the accusations that the employment of former Stasi members in "sensitive areas" of the archives was a security risk, calling them "absurd." The investigation eventually led to a number of employees being moved to other jobs.