For more than three years, German photographer Simon Menner has immersed himself in the invasive culture of the Stasi, the security service that snooped on East Germans for 40 years. Officially known as The Ministry for State Security, the Stasi recruited from all walks of life, enlisting over 2.5 percent of East Germany’s adult population as unofficial informants just before the Berlin wall fell. So powerful was the agency that Simon Wiesenthal, famous for hunting Nazi criminals, said "the Stasi was much, much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people." For the Stasi, the key to effectively managing East Germany's population was blending in.
While researching his new book, Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives, Menner uncovered troves of documents and photographs detailing the inner-workings of the Stasi, including a dress code for undercover agents. "Once top secret, and now preposterous, these images are both comical and sinister," says the book's synopsis. We spoke with Menner, who gave us some insight into the disturbing reality of Stasi East Germany.
Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives will be released on November 30th. You can pre-order it here. A collection of images from the book, including more disguises, images of house searches, hand-to-hand combat techniques, hidden cameras, and even fake beards, is available free of charge at Simon Menner’s website.