A Last Encounter With the Stasi
Christian Bürger’s Diary, 12th Entry
2 August 1990
“Reichenbach. Here the fear was greatest. It was the last stop on East German territory. Four men got on, and you could see from miles off that they were from the State Security department. Two of them entered our compartment and the two others went into another: “IDs, please!”
A few people refused to show their passports. Most of us had in recent years found out the hard way that things never ended well if you handed your ID over to a Stasi officer. But those who refused got yelled at: “It’s the property of the German Democratic Republic. Now hand it over! Immediately.” So it happened that our IDs were confiscated and they weren’t returned to us. Few cared. But I still had the “mark of Cain” in my pocket, the “PM-12” that told all and sundry that I had tried to flee East Germany. I felt certain they would refuse to let me continue onwards with it. The thought that I would be hauled off the train and slammed back in jail started bubbling up.
“I suddenly no longer saw the Stasi officer as a threat. In fact, I almost felt sorry for him. He was merely a petty official in a system from which we were just liberating ourselves – by train.”
I was seized by a wave of fear. But I’d learned to no longer be washed away by the wave. Fear had become my constant persecutor, but I didn’t want to give it the opportunity to overcome me so close to my goal. The other refugees were all experiencing the same thing. As the fear spread that our journey might just end here so did an uncanny silence. Then the door to our compartment was wrenched open. When I was asked for my papers I had the chance to either look for excuses or go on the offensive. My final goal almost within my grasp, this was my last great challenge, and so I summoned all my courage, and resolved to go on the attack. The way the guy from the Stasi was eyeballing me … That very moment I noticed how much courage and self-confidence I had gained during the last few weeks in the embassy and that there was no way fear was about to overwhelm me.
I suddenly no longer saw the Stasi officer as a threat. In fact, I almost felt sorry for him. He was merely a petty official in a system from which we were just liberating ourselves – by train. He did not have the good fortune to be aboard with us. He was a pitiful cog in the system. And faced by this little cog, I simply retorted: “My ID. You guys confiscated it ages ago!”
Video Diary Episode 12
A LAST ENCOUNTER WITH THE STASI
The Stasi guy asked me my name and consulted a little book. “Christian Bürger”, I said with all the self-confidence as I could muster. That moment the heads of all the four Stasi officers turned and they stared at me. As if suddenly David Hasselhoff were dancing atop the Berlin Wall. As if I was a celebrity … I was confused for a second, but did not drop my mask, and continued to stare back defiantly. I held their gaze. The officer jotted something down in his little book, looked at me briefly and then moved on to collect up other IDs.
Not until we were in the West did it dawn on me what had happened. I’d constantly been interviewed by journalists from the West while in the embassy. I’d constantly been on the evening news as the ‘voice’ of the refugees. The press was so much part of my everyday routine in the embassy that I’d not really attached any great importance to it. But unbeknownst to me during my time in Prague I’d become a celebrity. There’d have been a scandal had they arrested me. The media had given me immunity. My liberty train started rolling again.”
CONTEMPORARY WITNESSES – AND WHAT BECAME OF THEM
Hans Joachim Weber, Diplomat
From early 1989 he was responsible for the refugees in the German embassy in Prague. Finally, he also accompanied a train to West Germany and travelled straight back to accompany the second wave of departures.
And some were standing, not everyone got a seat, many people were standing, and then I walked down the train and handed out cigarettes and… well, and I calmed a few people down, and then they turned up, the East German border guards, now that had not been agreed, taking everyone’s IDs off them. That amounted to on-the-spot expatriation and that really hadn’t been agreed. We hadn’t agreed that people who forfeit their IDs… they said “Hey you” and threw them out the window, the IDs, or tore them up if one of them came in, one of the, the guards, right? It was safe. I mean, an agreement’s an agreement. And what they’d agreed to, they more or less kept to, well, yes, at that moment in time.