It’s now 32 years ago: the night of October 2nd to 3rd, 1990 was the emotional high point in his life as a journalist, says Eberhard Schellenberger. The young radio reporter reported live from the Schanz near Eußenhausen in the Rhön-Grabfeld district, where 4,000 people from East and West hugged each other, sang together and celebrated German reunification.
The Cold War was over, and Germany was once again a united fatherland. “I had tears in my eyes,” says the long-time head of the Mainfranken regional studio at Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR). In a book, the 65-year-old Schellenberger brings the times back to life. He pays special attention to the surveillance by the GDR state security.
Schellenberger’s Stasi files are 400 pages long
For five years, the journalist was targeted by the secret service of the SED regime. When Schellenberger received tips at a meeting with former GDR opposition figures in 1993 that there might be an extensive file from him in the Gauck authorities, he became curious. The announcement of the date for viewing the documents in Suhl states that he has to take three to four hours to do so. “I was surprised for the first time,” says Schellenberger. “For the second time, when an archive employee presented me with 300 pages.”
Ultimately, Schellenberger’s files – a second one was kept in Cottbus – include 400 pages of reports on private and professional visits and encounters in the GDR, assessments of his personality, individual photos, transcripts of conversations, telephone calls and radio reports.
The Stasi meticulously recorded the activities under the code names “Antenna” and “Journalist”. Schellenberger, who comes from Zeil in the Hassberge district, grew up not far from the Iron Curtain, in the so-called zone border area. “I want to know, I’m interested in how the people on the other side of the border live,” he says. In 1984, the reporter traveled to the GDR privately for the first time. His wife had motivated him to visit pen pals in Lusatia, to whom the family regularly sends Christmas packages with coffee and soap.
Agents at the next table in the restaurant
The Stasi was alarmed when a journalist entered the GDR privately. She will be present at all visits in the future. First, a GMS, a social employee for local security, describes again and again, albeit not completely, the private excursions of the Schellenbergers and their friends in the near and far surroundings. Once, on the way back from the Zittau Mountains, they are followed by two men in a black Lada. When they stop at a restaurant, the two agents in trench coats – “like in the movies” – behave “so conspicuously inconspicuously that we have to laugh” at the next table. The scene is missing in the file.
What sounds a bit like a game of cops and robbers intensifies when the man from Lower Franconia seeks entry into the GDR for the first time as a radio reporter. In the summer of 1985, Schellenberger wanted to do research in Dresden for a program entitled “40 years after the destruction of Dresden and Würzburg – a review of the reconstruction on the Elbe and Main”. The trip is approved and a “journalistic companion” is assigned to Schellenberger.
Schellenberger writes in his book that a human connection was quickly found. The journalist only found out that the man reported to the Stasi when he studied the file. Many of the details of the research are logged, and the companion also makes assessments of Schellenberger as a person: His “political-ideological position” cannot be precisely determined, but his condemnation of “neo-Nazis in Bavaria and the Federal Republic of Germany” is clear.
But the Stasi obviously doesn’t trust their own informers. In addition to discussions with monument experts and SED officials, Schellenberger also wants to record quotes from passers-by on Würzburger Strasse in Dresden. An elderly woman reports on the reconstruction of her house, before finally bursting out: she would like to go to beautiful Würzburg, but one is locked up here in Dresden. The companion had turned pale, says Schellenberger. He promises him not to use the recording.
In the evening, the BR reporter is nevertheless called into the foyer of his hotel: the old woman from Würzburger Strasse has come and begged him not to use any of the sentences she said at the end of the interview. How does she know which hotel Schellenberger is staying in? Apparently he and his guard were observed by another Stasi informer.
Stasi develops “plan of measures” against journalists
Monitoring became even more closely meshed when, at the beginning of 1988, a town twinning between Würzburg and Suhl was in the offing. Schellenberger traveled to the Thuringian district town several times with Würzburg delegations. The Stasi is always there, and a whole “plan of measures” for dealing with western journalists is being drawn up. The “Antenna” file contains observation logs – neatly typed on a typewriter – as well as transcripts of phone calls and radio reports. “Individual contributions that BR no longer had in the archives were actually found in the Stasi documents,” Schellenberger says today.
Otherwise, the records range from trivial things like the weather in Suhl or the sound quality of the telephone transmission to political evaluations. “Overall, Schellenberger was extremely negative in his reporting and commenting,” says a Stasi report after the Bavarian Radio reported a “citizens’ meeting” with the mayor of Suhl in Würzburg at the end of 1988, and there, among other things, a former GDR -Citizens have their say, who laments the way the SED regime deals with critics and people willing to leave the country. The Stasi lieutenant colonel was particularly annoyed that Schellenberger also mentioned how the Suhl mayor was sweating when he tried to counter the accusations.
Overture in a negligee
In retrospect, many of the descriptions from the documents that Schellenberger published in the book read like scenes from a (more or less bad) film. More than three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Schellenberger says there are many oddities that make you smile. However, he warns against forgetting that the GDR was an unjust state that mercilessly persecuted (possible) critics.
The author also uses Bernd Höland’s file to show how fraudulently those responsible acted. When the partnership between Würzburg and Suhl took shape, the native of Thuringia founded a Suhl Friendship Group in Würzburg – with the aim of enabling contacts between citizens from East and West, far away from official delegations.
For the Stasi, such activities mean red alert. Höland’s file is kept under the name “Dreatman”. One goal of the monitors is to “take measures to insecure and collect compromising material”. So when he visits Suhl, the Würzburger is invited by supposed private individuals to spend the night in their apartments. When the master of the house leaves the living room with a large mirror on the wall under a pretext, the wife Höland serves sparkling wine, suddenly appears in a pink negligee and sits next to him.
The guest from the west does not react to the overture. He goes to sleep. The next morning he discovers a wooden shack in the bathroom, on the back of the living room wall with the mirror, in which a camera could easily be hidden. Höland’s suspicion that he was to be compromised and ultimately blackmailed is confirmed after reunification when a look at the Stasi files. In 2010, the city of Suhl made the former enemy of the state an honorary citizen.
Former class enemy, now reporter with goosebumps
For Eberhard Schellenberger, too, the work in and with the East changed with the fall of the Berlin Wall. “The best thing is the human encounters along the former Iron Curtain.” The BR regional studio now regularly broadcasts from fraternization celebrations in the former zone border area – and beyond. On July 1, 1990, on the occasion of the introduction of the D-Mark in the east, Schellenberger was reporting live from the Suhl studio of GDR broadcasting for BR radio waves when he was suddenly asked by his GDR colleagues in Erfurt whether he should not also Radio of the GDR could sell a contribution with original tones. “Of course, gladly,” I said. And then the former class enemy from the BR reported – with huge goosebumps.”
Anecdotes like these bear witness to the historical dimension of reunification. Almost from one day to the next, the days of armed East and West facing and stalking each other between Lower Franconia and southern Thuringia were over. Not letting the German-German past fall into oblivion is what motivates him to write down and publish the story of his Stasi persecution, says Eberhard Schellenberger. “Many young people today can no longer imagine this confrontation in the middle of Germany.” And so the reporter is particularly pleased when schools ask if he can present his memories in class. “I agree immediately.”
Book presentation on October 3rd
The book “Codename Antenne. As a journalist in the sights of the Stasi” by Eberhard Schellenberger has been published by Echter Verlag in Würzburg. It is bound, has 195 pages with many pictures and costs 19.90 euros.