Cold war front

October 8, 1999

I read Christopher Andrew's piece ("Degrees of treachery", THES, September 24) with interest but not surprise.

I attended the von Humboldt University in East Berlin for a month in spring 1987. My visit was made in the firm belief that "their" security organisations would be interested in any visiting westerner. It came as no surprise that my Betreuer (the contact in the university looking after my visit) tried to change money with me even though I had an official paper telling me not to. I was determined not to compromise myself. Near the end of my visit, I told him that I had lots of GDR currency left, and he offered to tell me where to find local prostitutes.

Doubtless the Communists wanted to get their hooks in, but they too had suspicions. I lived near the Wall and ran every day for several miles in a sensitive zone. My Betreuer was anxious to know why.

Am I interested to see a Stasi file about myself? No. It would be very boring. Would I choose to see files relating to other western academics? You must be joking. Other archives are more deserving of a visit.

Spying is what the cold war was all about. They did it to us; we did it to them. GDR Communists provided information about westerners. Western Communists told the Stasi about other westerners. No doubt various Brits provided information about Communists. No doubt possible dissidents in the Eastern Bloc were encouraged by western organisations to provide information about others who were of interest to us. What else could possibly have happened?

I try not to get fixated on the politically determined paranoia of the age. More interesting was the experience of watching opulent, crass television programmes transmitted from West Berlin alongside residents of Tashkent.

I am glad I saw East Berlin, but I would not have wanted to live in a land that sought to suppress free expression. I left feeling sorry for acquaintances who were worth so much more than Communism allowed them. At least they have more opportunities now. And what about all that money I had? I still have a very good pair of Zeiss binoculars.

Martyn Housden Department of European studies University of Bradford

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