An eerie look at East Germany like no other

A film-maker revisits the abandoned places and forgotten history associated with the most pervasive surveillance state in history. Christian Blauvelt reports.

In 1999 her father committed suicide. It was his second attempt. Some years earlier he had started receiving threatening, anonymous notes accusing him of being an informer for the Stasi, the East German secret police who ran the most extensive surveillance apparatus in world history – employing over 100,000 agents and tens of thousands of informers. For Petra Epperlein, the fact that he took his own life meant that he very likely was an agent for the Stasi indeed.

Like most who had grown up in East Germany and experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism, Epperlein preferred simply to forget about what life had been like under the communist regime. Much of the former East Germany has had its vestiges of that era wiped away, inspiring an odd longing for the 40 years the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) held power that is called Ostalgie or “nostalgia for the East”. After Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s pervasive surveillance activities, Epperlein felt compelled to show that nothing Snowden revealed about the NSA could compare to what the Stasi had done – and find out once and for all if her father was, in fact, an informer. She embarked on a journey through her hometown of Chemnitz, formerly Karl Marx City during the DDR, surveying the abandoned and forgotten vestiges of the communist era around her and looking for answers.

For Talking Movies, Christian Blauvelt talks to Epperlein about her film and what people today can learn from the experience of having lived in East Germany.

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