I’ve been sitting at my computer this morning, translating reports by the Stasi informant “Hölderlin” and wondering what the informant would have made of the fact that these secret reports are feeding into the development of a play in Scotland.
Let me explain. “Hölderlin” was the codename of one of the most prolific informants at the Deutsches Theater in East Berlin. 1,771 pages of the informant’s reports survive in four thick files in the archives, and I’d included some excerpts in the dossiers of archive sources I sent Peter.
Peter emailed me a couple of days ago to say ‘On the verbatim thing, one gets a real sense from “Hölderlin” that he is a bumptious personality type that is very attractive (i.e. irritating). Have you much of the “Hölderlin” file in transcript form?’
Prepare the drum roll for the revelation: “Hölderlin” was actually a woman! She worked in the archive at the Deutsches Theater, and she was nearing retirement at the end of the 1980s. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that someone who worked in a library or archive would have chosen a literary codename – in this case that of the wonderful lyric poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) – even if it’s bound to confirm Peter’s perception of the informant’s personality type. With hindsight, one of the dramaturges who used to work at the theatre described her to me as a spider trapping everyone in her web.
In November and December 1989, the Stasi’s remaining employees were working overtime, shredding documents to protect themselves and their top collaborators. They destroyed the personnel section of the “Hölderlin” files, containing evidence of her identity, the details of how she was recruited, the oath that she would have signed, and reports on her performance as an informant. As a result, it was well into the 1990s before people worked out who “Hölderlin” was, and in the meantime other people at the Deutsches Theater fell under false suspicion. As the Stasi’s policy was to refer to informants using the masculine gender, Peter is far from alone in having assumed that “Holderlin” was a man. One dramaturge told me that the playwright Heiner Müller suspected him, and that Müller died in 1995 without knowing that he had not actually betrayed him.
Things are complicated further by the fact that there was more than one informant codenamed “Hölderlin” in East Berlin’s culture scene – something that initially confused me when I was given the file for the other “Hölderlin” and found myself wondering why on earth a GDR poet should know quite so much about theatre productions, Party meetings and backstage gossip at the Deutsches Theater. The other “Hölderlin” had a very different experience with the Stasi, and eventually came under suspicion and surveillance herself, unlike her loyal counterpart. I can see the potential here for a Comedy of Errors, censorship-style.
What strikes me on reading the reports is that “Hölderlin” really seems to have enjoyed working for the Stasi, informing on her colleagues, and knowing secretly that she had a lot more power than they realized. I get that sense from the way in which she assiduously reported the details of everyday conversations with her colleagues, from the sheer volume and relentless regularity of her reports, and from the self-righteous tone of some of her comments. This was someone who worked backstage at one of East Berlin’s theatres, but knew that she was pulling some of the strings. The irony now is that she may end up featuring in – or informing the development of – a play written in Scotland a quarter of a century later, making her own stage debut. I can’t help wondering if, given the distance in time, she might have been quite undeservedly chuffed.