No Comment — May 17, 2007, 6:19 pm

Die Stasi ist mein Eckermann

The disclosures of James Comey and the tedious answers of Alberto Gonzales are a wonderful evocation of the Stasi state, indeed they show how much closer America is moving towards that workers’ paradise with every passing week. Those who have seen the “Life of Others” know the tale of Georg Dreyman, a playwright, and his actress paramour – but for those who have toiled in the vineyard of GDR literature (and a valuable vineyard it is), know that the producers have only ever so lightly adopted the story of a great dissident personage, namely the songwriter Wolf Biermann. Note that the names come within only a few letters, the plot itself is a very close approximation of events from Biermann’s life, and then we have that telltale volume of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn found in Dreyman’s apartment – “that in particular was a gift of Margot Honecker,” he says to the Stasi investigator – again a parallel to an event involving Biermann.

Known for his biting satire and his dedication to Socialism, Biermann chronicled his life under surveillance with a powerful sense of humor, and nowhere better than in the “Stasi Ballad” from 1974, with its classic refrain – “Die Stasi ist mein Eckermann.” That is a reference to the German poet Johann Peter Eckermann, who patiently chronicled the utterances of that Olympian figure of German literature, Johann Wolfgang Goethe – ultimately published in Goethe’s Conversations With Eckermann in the Last Years of His Life, which Nietzsche called the “greatest work in the German language”. Here is an English rendition:

I feel a common humanity
With the poor Stasi dogs,
Required to sit through snow and downpours of rain
Tediously listening to me through the
Microphone they have installed
Which catches every sound,
Songs, jokes and soft curses
Sitting on the toilet and in the kitchen
Brothers from state security – you alone
Know all my troubles.

You alone can attest,
How my whole human effort
Is committed with passionate tenderness
And zest to Our Great Cause.
Words which otherwise would be lost,
Are captured firmly on your tapes,
And – I’m sure of it – now and again
You sing my songs in bed.
I sing my gratitude to you,
Stasi is my Ecker,
Stasi is my Ecker,
Stasi is my Eckermann.

  • Wolf Biermann, “Die Stasi Ballade” (1974) (S.H. transl.)
Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2017

Blood and Soil

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Grim Fairy Tale

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Trump: A Resister’s Guide

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Little Things

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Patient War

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Remainers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Discussed in this essay: Age of Anger: A History of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 416 pages. $27. I am writing from Germany, the world’s last major stronghold of liberal democracy. The United Kingdom fell to Brexit in June; the United States fell, with the election of Donald Trump, in November. We can dispute whatever “the West” was for as much time as humanity has left, but that it collapsed on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, seems to me beyond question. Perhaps Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is the heart still beating faintly within its brain-dead body, but …
Photograph (detail) by Philip Montgomery
Post
Illustration (detail) by Steve Brodner
Article
The Patient War·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Discussed in this essay: Age of Anger: A History of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 416 pages. $27. I am writing from Germany, the world’s last major stronghold of liberal democracy. The United Kingdom fell to Brexit in June; the United States fell, with the election of Donald Trump, in November. We can dispute whatever “the West” was for as much time as humanity has left, but that it collapsed on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, seems to me beyond question. Perhaps Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is the heart still beating faintly within its brain-dead body, but …
Photograph (detail) © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Redux
Article
Little Things·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Discussed in this essay: Age of Anger: A History of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 416 pages. $27. I am writing from Germany, the world’s last major stronghold of liberal democracy. The United Kingdom fell to Brexit in June; the United States fell, with the election of Donald Trump, in November. We can dispute whatever “the West” was for as much time as humanity has left, but that it collapsed on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, seems to me beyond question. Perhaps Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is the heart still beating faintly within its brain-dead body, but …
Photograph (detail) of miniatures by Lori DeBacker by Thomas Allen
Article
Blood and Soil·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Discussed in this essay: Age of Anger: A History of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 416 pages. $27. I am writing from Germany, the world’s last major stronghold of liberal democracy. The United Kingdom fell to Brexit in June; the United States fell, with the election of Donald Trump, in November. We can dispute whatever “the West” was for as much time as humanity has left, but that it collapsed on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, seems to me beyond question. Perhaps Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is the heart still beating faintly within its brain-dead body, but …
Illustration (detail) by Nate Kitch

Minutes after a tornado hit Shiloh, Illinois, in April that the town’s warning siren sounded:

30

A bowl of 4,000-year-old noodles was found in northwestern China; and a spokesman for the Chinese Academy of Sciences said that “this is the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found.”

Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, announced that he has ordered the country’s navy and coast guard to bomb the ships of kidnappers even if civilian hostages are on board.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today