This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 1050 words.
Working for Graf had been a real eye-opener. I learned that more than three million people had already left East Germany, simply by crossing to the Allied Sector, then disappearing into western countries, or applying for official papers to emigrate. Unsurprisingly, that figure included many Stasi officers, eager to get away in case the border was closed for good. There had been lots of gossip about tougher restrictions, and the rumours were spreading like wildfire.
We rounded up their friends and families, and made life difficult for relatives left behind. They were watched, monitored, and their chances of getting better jobs or promotion were non-existent. One thing that did come as a shock was that Graf was remarkably agreeable, even to officers arrested on suspicion of planning to leave the country. My image of beatings and fierce interrogations was not happening at all. My boss was a man who valued information above all things. Any prisoner happy to give such information was treated fairly, though others simply disappeared into prison somewhere.
The new job made me feel as if I was walking on water. Our arrival at a Stasi office was treated like a Papal visit, with even very senior officers deferential to Graf and myself. Nobody wanted to fall foul of Internal Affairs, and they were happy to co-operate with any of Graf’s demands. Operating like a separate force with the organisation, we could more or less do what we wanted. Arrests were frequent, and never challenged. We could request to see any documents or files too, nothing was beyond our remit.
More good news came for me, in the Spring of 1960. I was to be promoted to Lieutenant, not long after my twenty-fifth birthday. Inge was teaching full time in a junior school, and now had her own studio flat in the eastern suburbs. She was still painfully thin, and reclusive socially, but she was as settled as she was going to be. I managed to see her at least once a month, though irregular hours in the new job meant I never knew what my working hours would be.
Despite my new rank, I stayed as Graf’s driver. Though he now treated me more as a colleague, than a subordinate. I was happy to stay in my apartment, as I only ever seemed to get back to sleep there. Something else changed though. I started to feel very grown up. I had made career choices that tied me to the administration, and realised there was no going back. That summer, everyone was told to attend an important meeting. Graf had drafted in a lot of help, as we were going to detain a large number of suspect officers, as well as many members of the civilian police too. After the briefing, I was called in for a talk with him.
“I trust you to keep this to yourself, Manfred. The government is about to start construction of a wall, a physical barrier that will divide Berlin. Once it is built, nobody will be allowed to leave the country anymore. It is obviously going to cause a lot of consternation, and we expect hundreds to try to get across before it is finished, if not thousands. No doubt many of those will be Stasi and police, as they will be the first to know. So we are embarking on a series of preventative arrests, the detention of anyone we suspect of planning to leave. We will round them up before construction starts, and they will be one less problem to worry about”.
As we walked to the car, I took in the enormity of what he had just told me. We were building a wall to keep the people in.
I doubted that was going to be very popular. And I was right.
It hadn’t been thought through, that was obvious from the start. Many East Germans had relatives in the western sector, often just a few streets away. Some still worked in the west, and they would no longer be able to go to work. As soon as it became obvious what was happening, scores of people tried to get through before the city was sealed off. That included some police officers, soldiers, and the occasional Stasi operative too. Those caught and brought in for questioning could count on a rather bleak future, that was for sure.
Any thoughts I had that the new wall would make my job easier were soon banished by a noticeable increase in our workload. Once physically trapped inside the old Russian Sector, underground groups formed almost overnight, planning escapes, and organising opposition to the government. Although we were supposed to only be dealing with internal Stasi matters, we were soon roped in to help deal with the sheer volume of increased surveillance, and higher numbers of arrests. Some days, I fell asleep at my desk, and hardly ever seemed to get home. Captain Graf appeared to thrive on the pressure, and I watched him, intent on learning the secrets of how he did his job so well.
When I had worked for Teller, I heard a lot about ‘instinct’, and having a ‘nose for the job’. Graf was the complete opposite. He favoured detail. Meticulous records, thorough investigations, and covering every angle. He was not influenced by gossip, or tale-telling. I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that he had been a police inspector before the war, and had determined to stick to his old methods.
Nonetheless, we lived in what I started to think of as the ‘Stasi Bubble’. Life outside went on for ordinary people, and dramatic world events made the news in western countries. But we never concerned ourselves with the world scene, or wider issues. For us, it was all about keeping it together, and not going backwards. To make that happen, we happily cracked down on any dissent, and freedom of speech was non-existent. That was nothing unusual to me, as I had been born into a country ruled by the Nazis and the Gestapo.
I was brought up in the same repressive atmosphere, and didn’t know any different.
The politics, and even the name of the country had changed.
The uniforms and flags were different too.
But for me, it was all perfectly normal.