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Die Stasi ist mein Eckermann

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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.)

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