“Frau Paul is the most damaged character in the text.” Discuss
Set in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Stasiland by Anna Funder, recreates a “land gone wrong” and attempts to explore the lasting influence that the meticulous and pervasive secret police agency, the Stasi had on its own citizens. Throughout the text Funder focuses on elucidating the harrowing and extraordinary tales of individual characters as she tries to grasp the sheer extent of the damage inflicted by a society that was “built on lies”. Each of the characters that Funder explores, are to some extent affected by the duplicitous regime as she paints everyone as a “victim”. The effects of the subversive and coercive tactics that the Stasi employed have a greater effect for some than others. Through these explorations of “personal stories”, Funder uncovers the piteous story of Frau Paul, who because of the Stasi’s incessant need to control everyone in a “secret walled-in garden”, is reduced to a “lonely, teary guilt-wracked wreck”. Whilst the degrading and demeaning effects of the Stasi control is clearly palpable through her heartbreaking story of being separated from her critically ill son and her injurious incarceration in Hohenschönhausen, the story of Miriam and many of the Stasi men are more poignant.
Despite the adversity that many of the victims of the GDR regime faced during their life, there are people who exhibit the ability to fight against forgetting. Even though Funder shows the damage of the psychological calamity that was imposed on Frau Paul through her “muddled” and “peppered” voice, she admires her courage that she exhibits even to this day. Her willingness to some extent, face the past is a source of admiration for other people, including Funder who tries to find other people who “confronted the regime”. Karl Wilhelm Fricke, Frau Paul’s hero dubs her as a “very courageous woman” for both what she has done in the past and what she is doing currently. Frau Paul’s “soul” has ultimately been “buckled out of shape, forever” and what Funder suggests here is an individual whose very being has been distorted and badly hurt. Nonetheless; she still exhibits the fighting spirit that she had when she rejected “the deal” even though she doesn’t admit it anymore. She is unwilling to take the easier emotional path and forget the past; Frau Paul is able to return to Hohenschönhausen prison, “the place that broke her” and still work as a tour guide telling people about instruments “designed for indignity. She sees guilt from another perspective and confronts it by educating people about the true horrors of the GDR which the city as a collective is attempting to conceal “behind glass” to “colour a cheap and nasty World golden”. This kind of courage contrasts to the stories of many other characters that she explores such as Miriam and Julia who both seems to “whisk” back into their shell “at the slightest sign of contact” with other individuals.
Miriam Weber who despite her tremendous courage, is an individual who has undergone “internal emigration”, forever stuck in the past of inventive malice, left with questions that will always remain unanswered. Funder believes that to be able to truly understand the scope of the suffering that Miriam endures, she will have to “explain other things around it”, bookending the novel with her story. Her victimisation stemmed from a single act of youthful courage resulting in a harrowing sequence of humiliation at the hands of the unyielding Stasi forcing her to live only a half-life. At the age of sixteen she become an “enemy of the state”, charged with the crime of “sedition” for distributing pamphlets criticising their Communist overlords. The notion of being an “enemy of the state” is one that she cannot escape and haunts her for the rest of her life. Although proud of her actions, Funder emphasises the underlying distraught in Miriam’s tone with her first person narrative powers which she describes as being the “disbelief that this country enemy of its own children”. Miriam cannot supress her scars inflicted by the Stasi as she starts to “sweat and go cold” in small spaces because of her trauma and lives in a place where “anyone” could be seen “coming”. As Funder observes, Miriam is an individual who “brave and strong and broken all at once”. For Miriam, Funder explains that her past “stopped when Charlie died”, how she now sees herself as being “no longer human”, her existence “no longer real to her”. This despairing language gestures to the extend Miriam is in the past, forever searching for answers, unable to be “released into a new life”.
Whilst not as obvious, many of the Stasi men eventually became imprisoned by the same views that they indoctrinated, unable to move on, having to deal with finding out that what they were “brought up” to believe was now considered a lie. They are haunted by the past, unwilling to deny it and desperate to speak to Funder to give “their side of history” so that their life maintained some meaning. Unknowing, they themselves have been manipulated by the “Faustian bargain hunters”. Herr Koch, a “long crusader against forgetting” is painted by Funder as essentially a victim of the regime, brought up under a “religion” like society that twisted his childhood so that he became “trained” as a “poster boy for the new regime”. These vivid description gestures to the way individuals like Herr Koch were similarly shaped and forced to embody repressive views of the GDR. In many ways, his story parallels the tragic events that unfold in Miriam’s life and the lasting influence that it has on her life where she was left with many “tics”. Herr Koch’s world similarly “broke apart” when the Stasi manipulates his wife to divorce him and finds out that what he was brought up to believe was a false, exacerbated by his father not believing in what he was forced to teach. In the end, he too was forced to seek some sense of control through the seemingly small victories against the regime, highlighted through the sentimental value that he places on the cheap plate that he stole. Despite all the truths he finds out, Funder encapsulates the sadness in his inability to change his views accordingly in her second meeting him, stating that “the Wall is the things that defined him, and he will not let it go”. In the same way, Herr Winz who has a deep sense of “Ostalgie” is unable to let go of the past as for him his world was so suddenly turned upside down. Whilst physically living under a united Germany, Her Winz mental reality is still clinging onto the past. He still plays “mind games seven years after the fall of the Wall”, showing how pathetically out of touch he is. For these people, the process of looking forward is one that is unimaginable. They are unable to comprehend that the version of the ideological truth that they were brought up to believe just vanish leaving them with a life that all of a sudden had no significance.
Funder undergoes an adventure in a distorted version of “Alice in Wonderland” as she rediscovers and a tries to grasp a perspective of a society where “what was said was not real and what was real was not allowed”. In a world that defies logic, there are those that are able to face up to the horrors of the brutality that one endured and tell the world about it. We feel awe at Frau Paul’s bravery who is able show people the prison which Funder describes as “the smell of misery”. Whilst she is clearly damaged by the pervasive methods that the Stasi employed, there are those that are so severely impacted psychologically, that they are forever stuck in an endless loop searching to find answers and meaning in their life. Miriam tragically is one of those individuals who are consumed by a past created by the Stasi unable to find closure and described by Funder as a “maiden blowing smoke in her tower”.