The declassified fashions of East German spies
September 18, 2013 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives A collection of images from the book, including more disguises, images of house searches, hand-to-hand combat techniques, hidden cameras, and even fake beards, is available free of charge at Simon Menner’s website.

While researching his new book, Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives, Menner uncovered troves of documents and photographs detailing the inner-workings of the Stasi, including a dress code for undercover agents. "Once top secret, and now preposterous, these images are both comical and sinister," says the book's synopsis. We spoke with Menner, who gave us some insight into the disturbing reality of Stasi East Germany.
posted by KokuRyu (27 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting. I wish there was more context in the captions for the disguises. What are they disguised as?
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:21 PM on September 18, 2013

Captain Kangaroo and Larry from Three's Company, respectively.
posted by dr_dank at 12:25 PM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

I was expecting some sleek fashion, some forbidding sunglasses, some dark intrigue exhibited via clothing.

Instead I found an East German version of the 70's. (yes, there are sunglasses there, but they are hilarious, not ominous).
posted by el io at 12:33 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Tragedy plus time equals comedy" has never seemed so true to me.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:39 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Looks like they did a lot of spying on American servicemen as well as their own people.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:42 PM on September 18, 2013

I have the answer as to why the handle is always on the wrong side of my coffeemaker! My husband is Stasi!

Okay not really, to any of it, but that part was extra creepy.
posted by jennaratrix at 12:46 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Photos from the other side.
posted by pjern at 12:55 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I love that they do up every single button on every single garment. There's something so wrong about that.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:59 PM on September 18, 2013

Today I learned that the Stasi is alive and well and is always moving my keys.
posted by oneironaut at 1:09 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ironmouth: I couldn't help but reverse that a bit... "it looks like the NSA spies on foreigners as well as it's own people".
posted by el io at 1:19 PM on September 18, 2013

I know nothing of fashion, but that collar/v-neck combination is the most hideous thing I have ever seen.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:28 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

If that's what they were supposed to wear to "blend in", how was everyone else dressed!??

posted by droplet at 1:37 PM on September 18, 2013

Previously-ish, I like the verge piece though, and think the post could stay because the context is better than the previous post.
posted by kittensofthenight at 1:39 PM on September 18, 2013

OK, I really want to know what's up with the Stasi Guinea Pig.
posted by nTeleKy at 1:59 PM on September 18, 2013

Be careful what you do around the Stasi Guinea Pig: those wee beady eyes SEE ALL.
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:15 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh shit. I think the Stasi have infiltrated Brooklyn.
posted by mhum at 3:22 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Filed under: No it isn't a how-to guide, why do you ask?
posted by b1tr0t at 3:27 PM on September 18, 2013

Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany's Secret Police
. . . the agency had generated perhaps more paper than any other bureaucracy in history — possibly a billion pages of surveillance records, informant accounting, reports on espionage, analyses of foreign press, personnel records, and useless minutiae. There's a record for every time anyone drove across the border.
Sheesh, good thing we're never going to revisit those times.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:04 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

"(...)this is exactly what [Stasi operatives] looked like."

Are there any former East German / history buff MeFites out there who can tell us what the difference is? The look like they're polyester-wearing people from the '70s, but what are the signs that they're not normal polyester-wearing people from the '70s?
posted by Zack_Replica at 4:08 PM on September 18, 2013

I think the tipoff is that there were only four human beings in the 1970s who could pull off an ascot.
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:30 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

We've seen the Stasi fashion, how about the Stasi camera equipment?
posted by thewalrus at 6:00 PM on September 18, 2013

Two wild and crazy spies.
posted by buzzman at 7:14 PM on September 18, 2013

"(...)this is exactly what [Stasi operatives] looked like."

"Are there any former East German / history buff MeFites out there who can tell us what the difference is?"

posted by Zack_Replica at 7:08 PM on September 18

In the mid-80s, I worked with various German, Italian, and Canadian manufacturers to bring shoe manufacturing technology to the Eastern Block, under various State Department programs that promoted trade with the former Warsaw Pact nations, especially trade that was clearly not possible "dual use" (i.e. military/civilian) technology. I spent time in the former East Germany, the Soviet Union, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the former Czechoslovkia, in that time period, selling shoe and apparel machinery at international trade fairs and exhibitions, and later returning to supervise installation, and instruct the factory management, workers, and maintenance personnel on its use and upkeep.

The main thing I see in the linked pictures is that most of the subjects are male, and not uniformed, as one might now, at this historical remove, expect many Stasi undercover officers to be. In my known interactions with the Stasi, the officers were open about their purposes in checking my apartment, my acquaintances (drivers, maids, professional contacts, etc.), and were mostly male. They often looked a lot like the pictures linked, but generally produced identification whenever I, a Westerner, asked politely, and sometimes showed up at my company apartment in state military uniforms. All in all, I was never treated really badly by the Stasi, as a credentialed foreigner, but I made sure to play by their rules, as I knew them, too.

Far more sinisiter were Ceaușescu's operatives in the formerly Communist Romania. The Romanian secret police of that era used a lot more female operatives, targeted all Westerners indiscriminately, and loved nothing more than entrapping new people into their schemes by any means they could. The pressure on Westerners was constant, and much more subtle than the Stasi ever applied. In Romania, you could trust no one, for any kind word or human gesture. If you had to be there, your best bet was to keep your head as far down as the surviving population generally did, notice no one, nor try speaking to anyone, about anything, and to get the hell out, as soon as possible. Romania, in that era, did make the Soviet Union seem like a worker's paradise.

But, damn, the Romanian women operatives you ran into were just stunning. Sadly stunning, I suppose, but still, remarkable. I'd be walking through a factory with 5 or 6 Romanians, and "Hello!", here was a new woman worker on the line, operating the adhesive infrared activator for the sole press, who just happened to have flawless skin, manicured nails, professionally done hair, and was wearing Chanel perfume, dressed in a bog standard factory coverall. Like you shouldn't notice. And her machine, which you'd sold the factory 2 months before, just happened to have been having a problem all morning...

Keep your head down, keep your eyes on the machine, be interested in making shoes.
posted by paulsc at 8:04 PM on September 18, 2013 [14 favorites]

Creepy and interesting at the same time... thanks paulsc.
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:07 PM on September 18, 2013

Van Morrison was with the Stasi. I knew it.
posted by philip-random at 10:16 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Two Stasi threads in 24 hours... seems suspicious, comrades. Report to your local police station.

Further to my book recommendation in the other thread, everyone who hasn't yet should watch The Lives of Others.
posted by rory at 1:35 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll second rory's suggestion - it's a very good movie.
posted by Zack_Replica at 11:52 AM on September 26, 2013

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