My most recent trip fiction experience took me back to Berlin. The Standardisation of Demoralisation Procedures features a 60 year old Stasi agent, and its events are built around the day (9 November 1989) the Wall was opened up.
Author Jennifer Hofman lives in the city, although she has Austrian/Colombian roots and grew up in Germany.
Hochenschönhausen was the Stasi’s main political prison and is named after that suburb in the city. It has been a museum since 1994. The suburb is also the location of Wellblechpalast – “the Corrugated Iron Palace” – which used to be home ice for the Eisbären Berlin ice hockey team*.
My first trip to another part of Europe to watch ice hockey was to see an Eisbären home game there, with my son back in about 2003. What a great weekend it was, and the game was a fantastic experience.
I visited the city in May 1990 as well, after the Wall had been opened up but before reunification. It was fascinating to cross into the DDR side of the city at that time and take a look around.
The anti-hero of the book – Zeiger – is having a mental and physical breakdown on the day the DDR government opened the border. He was the author of the Stasi manual – The Standardisation of Demoralisation Procedures – which gives the novel its title. The manual was used to give a route map on how to break those citizens who were regarded as a threat to the state.
The narrative gives a fascinating insight into life in that state, and the secret police regime which sustained it.
“He filled the coffee cooker, added a spoonful of coffee, put it on the stove, and waited. This was not coffee. It was coffee, pea flour, and disgrace. This was Kaffee Mix, and tasted like a nosebleed. One bad harvest in Brazil, a coffee shortage, and the largest revolts the Republic had seen since 1953. An entire nation with the jitters. Even well-stocked Intershops for foreigners and Party and Ministry officials had not sold real coffee in years.”
It might be difficult for some readers to relate to, but having been to the Soviet Union as a teenager, then piercing the veil of the Iron Curtain in 1990, and in the next decade spending much time in Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia as they transitioned out of the Soviet bloc, I found it fascinating.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2021
Ed note:- * The Eisbären team is descended from Dynamo Berlin of the pre-unification era. Since our visit almost 20 years ago, the team has played most of its games at a new arena in the west of the city, but its Ossi roots remain strong.