Just Been Watching…(113)

The Irishman (2019)

***Historical events, so spoilers do not apply***

The first thing I am going to say is that this is going to be an exceptionally positive review
Make no mistake, I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS FILM!

I saw this on Netflix, and it is not currently available elsewhere.

Director: Martin Scorsese.
Cast;
Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran
Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa
Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino
Ray Romano as Bill Bufalino
Bobby Cannavale as Skinny Razor
Anna Paquin as Peggy Sheeran
Lucy Gallina as young Peggy
Stephen Graham as Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano
Harvey Keitel as Angelo Bruno
Steven Van Zandt as Jerry Vale

Look at that cast! And that is just the headliners. Everyone else is great too.

I will start this review with one word, ‘RESTRAINT’.

Joe Pesci is restrained. Older, less hysterical, more composed. And no cackling.
Pacino, known best lately for shouting rather than acting is also less hysterical. Hardly any shouting at all. (Well, a bit)
De Niro is suitably restrained too, and also narrates the story, told in flashback/flash forward. He is ‘The Irishman’.

In fact, everyone is restrained, and the film is all the better for that.

If you liked ‘Casino’, you should like this too.
If you liked ‘Goodfellas’, you should like this too.
If you liked ‘Mean Streets’, you should like this too.
If you liked ‘JFK’, you should like this too.

Alright, what’s it about?

Jimmy Hoffa was the charismatic leader of the Teamsters’ Union in America. (Truck drivers) The union had so much money in contributions and pension funds, that it helped to bankroll the Mafia in the 1950s. Hoffa became a famous personality, and also a famous gangster, due to his Mob associations. He ‘disappeared’ in 1975, and to this day his whereabouts are officially unknown, although he was declared dead in 1982. Irishman Frank Sheehan is a truck driver, and ex-WW2 soldier. One day, he happens to meet a mob figure by chance, when his truck breaks down. That gangster is Russell Buffalino, (Pesci) and he takes a liking to the man, bringing him into the organisation. Petty theft leads to becoming a mob hitman, and then Hoffa’s right-hand man and bodyguard.

Meanwhile, the mob is unhappy with JFK, who has not honoured his pledge to get them back the gambling joints in Cuba, and harassed by his brother Bobby, who is the Attorney General. Nobody trusts anyone, and as time goes on, many leading Mob figures are ‘disappeared’, and Hoffa is getting out of control. When the Mafia chooses Provenzano over Hoffa, events come to a head, and something has to give.

This is conventional gangster fare. Families, wives, girlfriends, divided loyalties, and lots of people ending up dead. Politics, betrayal, and lack of trust.

But this film is just WONDERFUL!

Locations, settings, costumes, music, (even that is by Robbie Robertson, who used to be in The Band) and a flawless feel of time and place.

Before you say it, yes we have seen many similar films before.
And yes, it is long, (three hours and twenty-five minutes) but that length worked for me.

If you didn’t like ‘Goodfellas’, you are not going to like this.
If you don’t like gangster/Mafia films, you are not going to like this.

So if that’s the case, my advice is don’t watch it, then you won’t have to complain later.

For me, it was five stars. With bells on, and an airhorn sounding, as well as a choir in the background.

Can you tell I liked it?

Here’s a trailer.

Russian Sector: Part Twenty-Four

This is the twenty-fourth part of a fiction serial, in 1680 words.

Berlin, 1972.

I left it until the following weekend to go and see Inge. No point visiting her and Anna when they were both at work, and I certainly didn’t want to set tongues wagging by turning up in my car with Bauer.

To her credit, Inge made no attempt to conceal what was going on. She sat on the tiny sofa with Anna standing next to her, holding her hand. They were both still in their dressing gowns, and from the look on Anna’s face when I arrived, I guessed that I had interrupted something. I didn’t mince my words.

“They have a file on you, Inge. Photos, a complaint from Herr Pressler, and for all I know there could well be a microphone hidden in this flat. Even me coming here to discuss it with you will probably be monitored, so you have to tell me what you want to do”. I hadn’t seen Inge for a few weeks. She had filled out, and had some colour in her face. She looked something like the little girl I once knew. There was no mistaking that Anna was good for her. I put a finger to my lips to silence her as she started to speak. Adopting a cheerful tone, I spoke with a smile.

“Why don’t we go out for coffee and cake? That would be nice”. I nodded as I spoke, leaving her in no doubt that we had to get out of her apartment.

They went into the bedroom and dressed hurriedly, not bothering with any make-up or smart clothes. I walked between them not saying a word until we got to the small park nearby. I knew that the Stasi used lip readers, and often filmed conversations. I chose an outside table away from the counter, and at the side of the building. Anyone watching us would have had to show themselves to see our faces. When I had finished looking around, I nodded to my sister that it was safe to speak.

“Manfred, Anna and I are in love. It just happened over time, at work. Neither of us planned it, or even realised it was happening. She is not happy with her husband. He drinks too much, and is mean to her. She won’t go back to him, no matter how many times he complains. We are going to be together, whatever anyone says or does”. I looked across at Anna. She looked terrified, but her plain features softened when I spoke.

“You can stay living together, but you must try not to be so obvious. No hand-holding, or public affection. If anyone asks, you are giving Anna a place to stay. She should be registered at your address, and you must get a separate bed in the living room, so there can be no allegation that you share the same one in your bedroom. If you are interviewed by anyone else, you stick to the story that you are just friendly work colleagues. I will go and see Anna’s husband and warn him off. But you must promise me not to give anyone cause for gossip or suspicion in public. Can you do that?” Inge nodded, obviously unhappy about it, but with little choice in the matter. I carried on, looking at Anna this time.

“You do realise that your career is over, Anna? You will be lucky to keep the job you have now, and promotion will never happen. The same applies to Inge. You have both made a decision from which there is no going back. Are you certain? I need to know, because my sister’s happiness is important to me. Without sounding harsh, I don’t care what happens to you, but now you have involved my sister, and that has involved me. So you cannot suddenly change your mind. That is no longer a luxury”. She kept my gaze, and straightened up. “I love your sister, Herr Kraus. As long as we can be together, I don’t care what happens with my job. I am sorry if this has got you in trouble, I really am”.

I took a small notebook and pen from my coat pocket, and slid it across the table. “Too late for sorry, I’m afraid. My job now is to try to salvage something, and hope that you stop being of interest to the authorities. Write down your previous address, your husband’s full name and place of work. I will do my best to get him to withdraw the complaint, but I cannot promise to be successful. I put some money on the table and stood up. Inge jumped up and hugged me, whispering in my ear. “Thank you, darling Manfred”.

My decision was to tackle Wilhelm Pressler at his place of work, so I waited until Monday. Before leaving the office, I went down to check on the microphone authorisations in the records office, and was relieved to find that Inge’s name and address were not listed. Then I checked on Wilhelm Pressler. He was a Party member, and had never been in trouble. But he was noted by survelliance for frequently visiting prostitutes, many of whom were in our employ. That was something, but I would have liked more.

Bauer drove East across the city, to an industrial area in the suburbs. Pressler worked as an office manager for a small company making metal objects like buckets and pans. It was very noisy inside, and as I walked along the production line followed by Bauer, the people working on the machines eyed us nervously. In his small office, I flashed my badge quickly, not wanting him to see my name. He seemed happy to see me, and offered me a chair. I casually turned to Bauer. “You can wait in the car, Sergeant. I will deal with this”,

Once Bauer was out of earshot, I sat down and took a look at this man. I often wondered how some couples got together, and when I saw them on the street, I found it hard to believe that they had settled for each other. Pressler was no exception. Slim, smart, with thick hair slicked back, he looked nothing at all like the husband of someone so plain and dowdy like Anna. I knew he was the same age as his wife, but he looked at least ten years younger. He offered me a cigarette, and I shook my head. “So, I presume you have come about my complaint? The lesbian bitch who has stolen my wife.” He was beyond confident, even cocky.

I disliked him immediately, and let him know from my tone.

“Your wife has been interviewed. She tells us you have been unfaithful, and that you drink too much. You are also unkind to her. If this is the case, then may I ask why you are so concerned that she has left you?” He leaned across the desk, lowering his voice in a conspiratorial tone. “You know how it is, I’m sure. I couldn’t care less about the dumpy cow. I only married her because she was pregnant, then she lost the baby. But I’ll be damned if I will let myself be humiliated by her going off with a woman, and a younger one at that. If she wants to go, she can go with my blessing. But not to go and cuddle up to another woman. I’m not having that”.

When he leaned back, I opened my notebook. The page was blank, but he couldn’t see that. “Our report states that the young colleague is merely giving her a place to stay. They are good friends perhaps, but we have no evidence of anything inappropriate. Your wife has a bed in the living room, and they live together as friends until your marital situation is resolved one way or the other. It seems straightforward to me”. He was shaking his head before I finished speaking. “No, that’s not it. They are lovers. I have seen them walking hand in hand in the park, staring into each other’s eyes. believe me sir, I know what’s going on”. I looked blankly at him. “Your suspicions are one thing, but evidence is another matter. And we have none”. I flicked onto the second blank page in the notebook, and shook my head slowly.

“However, we do have evidence that you regularly visit prostitutes. Some of those women are believed to be agents of the West, or associated with conspirators here. What do you have to say about that?” His cockiness vanished in a heartbeat. “Sir, a man has needs. Have you seen my wife? I can tell you she doesn’t satisfy me. I can’t even get excited by looking at her, let alone the thought of doing anything with her. The girls I visit are not spies, I assure you. I’m a Party member, I would know”.

I closed the notebook. “I assure you you wouldn’t know which girls were doing what. If you continue with this complaint, then the evidence of your associations will have to be considered, and further investigations will be forthcoming. Why don’t you just accept that your wife has left you, and move on? You can get divorced in time, and start a new life with no black mark against your character. I can arrange for your records to disappear. As a loyal Party member, that’s the least I can do for you”.

He lit another cigarette, and I was trying to look unconcerned, though I was worried that my bluff might be called. He suddenly stood up, and extended his hand. “You’re a good man for doing that, put it there”. As I shook his hand, he smiled. “Let’s forget the complaint. Tell them I withdraw it. Tear it up. Anna can do what she wants, for all I care”. I wasn’t gloating as I left his office and walked back to the car.

I had managed to save my sister for now, but I knew it wouldn’t go away.

The Cows Have Gone

A couple of months ago, a herd of cattle was placed on Hoe Rough by a local farmer. This is done in conjunction with the Wildlife Trust, who like the natural way the cattle eat lots of the unwanted scrub grasses. They also churn up the ground, allowing some other plants to seed, presumably.

But for my walks with Ollie, this is bad news. Once the cattle are there, it is not a good idea to wander around with a dog. Not that Ollie would take any notice of them, but they might well be alarmed by his presence. Cows can run at up to 28 m.p.h., and for a long distance. They can outpace almost any human runner, and certainly beat me in a race. If alarmed, they might also trample Ollie, causing him grievous injury.

As cows kill more people than any other animal here in Britain, I keep away from them at all times.

I heard today that the cows had gone. They have presumably been removed to provide succulent joins of beef for the coming Christmas season.

For the first time in weeks, I could take Ollie over to his second-favourite stomping ground. Once through the gate, he was visibly excited, spinning in circles as I took his lead off. And then he was off, ready to sniff anything and everything he hadn’t been able to sniff for so long.

Unfortunately, the recent heavy rains and the presence of the cows had left the side paths deep in sticky mud, some eight inches deep. Even in my new boots, it was hard going, and made the walk more difficult than usual. But Ollie was so happy, I slogged on for a few circuits of the area.

By the time we got back, the sun was setting, and I had a tired dog ready for a nap.

Russian Sector: Part Twenty-Three

This is the twenty-third part of a fiction serial, in 1360 words.

Berlin, 1972.

The new job as Captain was confirmed after less than a month. I took my cue from Graf, and adopted his style. I had more people under surveillance than during his time, and listening to the secret microphones and phone taps was bringing in lots of names that were new to us. Rather than keep rounding everyone up, I advocated the use of informers and infiltrators. Remembering my own experience with Mona, we made good use of attractive women, often using them to have affairs with married officers we suspected of being disloyal. In a few cases, some of our agents even married the suspects, finding that once they were trusted as a wife, the real secrets began to be divulged.

Very soon, we were able to have a good idea just who was involved in any suspicious activity, as well as knowing all their contacts. This led to quite a few shocks. Very senior officers, important local government officials, even senior Party organisers. Some evenings I would sit alone in my office wondering if anyone was actually who we thought they were. There were occasional high-profile defectors too. Sports stars, famous writers or actors, all seemed to be taking any opportunity of travelling abroad to suddenly disappear.

After a high-profile meeting, we changed our policy. Rather than wait for these individuals to appear on western television celebrating supposed escapes, we started to expel them from East Germany. They were labelled undesirables, and it wasn’t unknown for some trumped-up charges to precede their expulsion. For most of them, life in the West was far from what they had expected. The fame or reputation they had enjoyed in their home country rarely followed them into their new life, and some became disillusioned very rapidly.

Some of those expelled were our own agents, who went to the West with a cover story, but were actually going to spy for us voluntarily. This proved very useful, resulting in the downfall of some senior West German politicians, and many other officials being implicated in scandals and disgraced.

Yet even after all those years, and all that work, escapes were still commonplace, and every so often someone would still be killed by the guards as they tried to cross the border. So we tightened the screws more than ever, letting people know just how closely they were monitored. At one meeting, it was proposed to put an informant into every apartment block and shared house, and the cost of paying these people was approved. It wasn’t long before I read the staggering statistic that we had one agent or paid informant for every six people in the republic. We had exceeded the control exerted by the Nazis, and made them look like amateurs.

Naturally, my bosses were very proud of this fact, and news that dissent was on the rise in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary was scoffed at. It was never once imagined that we could have such problems. Despite the popular uprising in Prague in 1968, there was nothing remotely similar here, and life went on much as normal. But unknown to us in our Stasi bubble, the economy of the country was collapsing; crippled by debts, bad management, and lack of exports earning foreign currency. Finance was never on our minds. We did our job, and it cost what it cost. No request for resources was ever denied, and we continued to grow our numbers of double agents and other operatives with never a question asked.

Home life for me had not changed at all. The same apartment, regular visits to Maria, and checking in on Inge when I could. It never even occurred to me that I had no social life to speak of, as work took up too much of my time to worry about that. I was thirty-seven years old, relatively secure in my job, as much as any of us could be, and the war seemed like a memory. I wouldn’t say it out loud, but I was lonely.

I was also feared.

I guessed that my position would come with that, but I wasn’t really ready for the daily implications of it, once I became in charge of the department. I now had a driver, one I had chosen myself, after much investigation. Sergeant Bauer had served in the Army in 1946, and entered the Stasi after five years as a soldier. He was a little older than me, and was married to a woman who worked for the youth programme, the Free German Youth. Their credentials were impeccable, but I never opened up to him.

After all this time, I still trusted nobody except Inge.

It was obvious that he was afraid of me. He rarely spoke unless to reply, and jumped whenever I entered a room. He didn’t speak about his wife, or her job, and never mentioned doing anything outside of work. I was rather torn. Like most people, I wanted to be liked. After all, I had never tortured anyone, had only ever shot anyone in the line of duty, and I didn’t even participate in any of the tougher interrogations that went on. That was covered by another department. In many ways, I couldn’t understand why anyone could be afraid of Manfred, who had once been a schoolboy who looked after his mother and sister.

The other side of me rather relished that fear. It came with the job, and had to be maintained. Weakness was not allowed, and with any show of weakness came suspicion. Once a suspect, however small the suspicion, life could change in a heartbeat. I worked for the Stasi who policed the Stasi. But it was well-known in our circles that there was another department whose job was to police us. And probably yet another that policed them. Our organised paranoia was on an industrial scale, unheard of in the history of mankind.

I wasn’t about to let myself get entangled by doing anything that could be construed as weak or ineffective, that was for sure.

Just when I thought things had calmed down into a manageable routine, I was ordered to report to Colonel Nagel’s office.

Although I was now a Captain, and a relatively important figure, Nagel still treated me as if I was Teller’s driver. I would dearly have loved to have got something on him, but he had resisted all my attempts to plant an informer into his social life, and the secret recordings in his office and of telephone conversations had yielded nothing of interest. It seemed the man was whiter than white. He sat with his arms folded, and nodded at a file on his desk.

“Have a look at that, Kraus, and tell me what you have to say about it”.

I flipped open the file, and the colour drained from my face. It contained photos of Inge, with another woman. Nothing explicit, but they were holding hands in the park, then sitting on a bench, with Inge’s head on the older woman’s shoulder. More photos showed her walking into her apartment with the woman, then leaving the next morning together. It could all have been so innocent, if it wasn’t for the look on both their faces. I wasn’t about to let Nagel see I was bothered.

“So my sister has a friend. So what? She’s allowed to have a friend, isn’t she? Nagel grinned, and I knew he had something up his sleeve.

“Her name is Anna Pressler. She is the senior teacher at your sister’s school. Last month, she left her husband and moved into your sister’s apartment. She is forty-four years old, Kraus, and her husband has made a complaint that your sister has seduced his wife into an unnatural relationship. It doesn’t look good”. I shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. “No doubt she was unhappy with her husband, Colonel. My sister is a kind girl, she probably offered to let her stay while she sorts out her problems”. Nagel bit his lip, and I realised that was all he had. I closed the file.

“Leave it with me, Colonel. I will go and speak to her”.

Russian Sector: Part Twenty-Two

This is the twenty-second part of a fiction serial, in 1100 words.

Berlin, 1965.

As I approached my thirtieth birthday, I was wondering where the last years had gone. Inge would soon be twenty-six, and was firmly established as a teacher. But she had never had a boyfriend, and when I spoke to her of loneliness and marriage, she told me that she could never trust a man as long as she lived. I felt sad for her, but she assured me that her life was good. I used my position to get her a few luxuries, but she would often refuse them, telling me to pass them on to someone more deserving.

My own love-life was non-existent too. The situation with Mona had made me too wary, too paranoid to embark on a relationship with another woman. I had to sadly reflect that the job I had chosen had made me distrust everyone I met. Other than Inge, I didn’t really have a friend in the world. Of course, I did have access to women, when I wanted or needed that. We had records on every prostitute working in the city, as well as the scores of women who were working for us by informing on their clients.

I found myself a decent widow, Maria. Short of money, she had attempted to work from her apartment, but had been informed on before she had managed to bring home a single client. It was a coincidence that her younger brother happened to be a policeman, so she was referred to our office for questioning.
I was supposed to talk about setting her up as an informer, someone who would chat to her clients, and report back to us if they said anything that could get them arrested.

Although she was considerably older than me, I took to her, and even felt sorry for her. So I made her a good offer. I would set her up in a different flat, pay the bills, and supply her with what she needed to get by. In return, I could go and see her anytime I wanted to, and my job would protect her from any prying neighbours. I expected her to hesitate, maybe ask for time to consider. But she accepted immediately. We couldn’t become a conventional couple of course, but she was happy with my infrequent visits to her, and liked the fact that we often just talked.

But I only ever spoke to her about the past, never about what I did, or what was going on. And I didn’t allow myself to become overly fond of her.

Just in case.

During those years, the new wall had caused a lot of work. It had become condemned internationally of course, and even those who had willingly stayed in the old Russian Sector were not convinced by the official explanation that it was an ‘Anti-Fascist Wall’, to keep our people safe from infiltrators or spies. Many would-be escapees were killed by soldiers or border guards trying to cross over. We had discovered elaborate tunnels that had been constructed to facilitate escapes, and had an increasing number of defectors in our own ranks, as well as from the Army and Police. Graf relished the challenge, seeing each new discovery as an opportunity to round up scores of people, and get more information about their networks.

Some days, I still felt as if I was drowning in paperwork and files.

At work, I spent more and more time with my boss. I had come to really like Graf, and to consider him a friend. He didn’t consciously use his position to intimidate anyone for no reason, and working alongside him made me feel more like a police detective, than a Secret Service Officer. And after all this time, I was also becoming well-known in our circles. Many considered me to be an important figure, an experienced Lieutenant in the company of those who wielded power. I didn’t see that at all. To me, I was just Manfred, a victim of circumstance who had gone along for the ride, with no realistic option to do otherwise.

But I was happy enough to use this new influence in my favour.

One decision I made was to get Inge somewhere better to live. Her tiny studio was depressing, at least to me. I got her name down for a one-bedroom flat only five minutes from where she was living, and she no longer had to share a bathroom. And for Maria I managed to obtain some decent lingerie and nylons, as well as some excellent make-up and hair products. All of this stuff had been confiscated from smugglers who had been arrested, and it was supposed to be destroyed. But I knew where to go, and who to talk to, and I could wander around the storeroom where it was kept, choosing my goods free of charge as if in a department store. Cigarettes, chocolate, wine and liquor, I could just turn up and select anything I wanted, no questions asked.

The one thing I didn’t do was to change my own apartment. I liked how central it was, and that it was in an old building, not one of the fast-appearing high rise blocks. I got to use the car too, if I wanted, but I generally left that at headquarters, and walked home. I would walk in the next morning, and collect it to go and pick up the boss. For me, the walking around gave a connection to the city, and also enabled me to keep an eye on the district. It didn’t hurt that local people knew full well who I was, and where I worked.

Berlin, 1966.

There was to be an important meeting, and Graf asked me to drive him there. “You should come in too, Manfred, listen to what is going on”. As we walked down the stairs, he stopped and rubbed his arm. “I feel sick, Manfred. Too much cognac last night, I suspect”. He started to smile, then suddenly sat down heavily, slipping down four of the stairs on his back. I was shocked. “What’s wrong boss? Shall I get help?” He didn’t respond, and his mouth was opening and closing like a fish taken out of water. I ran down to reception, and told them to call a doctor. By the time I got back, Graf’s face had turned blue, and I knew he was dead.

Two days later, I was told that I was now the Acting Captain, in charge of Graf’s department.

As I walked home, I felt cold.

I was going to have to step up, no mistake.

Trying to cope with Twitter

During the last year, I have been trying to make some sense of having a Twitter account.

I set aside some time every day to retweet the tweets of those that I follow, and even send the occasional direct message too.

I ‘Like’ the retweets of my own posts, and I am very grateful for those.

But it is like trying to push an avalanche back up a mountain using a teaspoon.

No sooner have I switched from ‘Notifications’ back to ‘Home’, then there are just as many tweets as when I started two minutes earlier.

Some people retweet their own tweets every few seconds.
Is there a setting for that?
I find it hard to believe that they spend the entire day doing nothing but retweeting their own tweets.

So many of you cope admirably with Twitter. You really ‘get it’, and it seems to be second nature to you.
In my case, each new ‘Twitter Day’ becomes a challenge, as I struggle to keep up, and wonder if I have failed to do something ‘Twitterish’.

Then there are the replies and messages. They are almost never linked to the tweet I sent in the first place, so I often have no memory of what I said.
I get included in ‘mass tweets’ sometimes too, and I am never sure if I am supposed to reply. Half the time, I am scrolling through, liking and retweeting, often to discover that I am retweeting the posts of people I have never heard of, because they were retweeted by people I actually follow.

I am overwhelmed by Twitter, like King Canute trying to turn back the waves.
It is relentless, it is unforgivable of those who don’t instinctively get how it works.

I feel as if I am hanging on to the edge of the Twitter crevasse with bitten fingernails.

Is it just me? I suspect it just might be.

Russian Sector: Part Twenty-One

This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 1050 words.

Berlin, 1961.

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.