Englischsprachige Literatur

Garton Ash Timothy

The File

Random House, New York 1997


Timothy Garton Ash, an honoured British journalist and writer specialising in books about Central European politics, discovered after the reunification of the two Germanies, that the Stasi had kept a file on him under the code name “Romeo”( He thinks this name came from the Alfa Romeo he was driving at the time). They recorded everything about him from his first stay in West Berlin in 1978 as a student of history from Oxford who researched for his thesis on the Third Reich, and got specially interested in his person when he spent some time in East Berlin where he was allowed to study archives for his work.

So these files brought the older Garton Ash of the nineties back to his professional beginnings, and, since he kept his own notes from the time, he is in the unique position of comparing his view of his life and events with the outward view of those informing on him. The first half of the book deals with the incongruities of personal memory and historical events and the forever shifting perception of how things happened and what your own role in events was. This is sometimes a trifle tedious, because, as Garton Ash himself says, he had no negative or even dangerous consequences to fear, compared with East Germans, whose file brought them to Bautzen prison for years or ruined their personal and professional life.

On the other hand, the “outsider´s” view of  this total surveillance of every move you made, every  personal contact you established, is gripping in its honesty. In the second, more thrilling part of the book Garton Ash interviews all the people who spied on him, the “IMs” as they were lovingly called by the communist system  of the GDR. And the author tries very hard to be fair, to find out what made these informers tick. There is a German saying: “ to understand all means to condone all” and sometimes Garton Ash is dangerously close to that. Still, it´s very unusual for a Briton to show so much understanding, that he even doesn´t give the real names of his informers, so as not to endanger their  life.

And, in an ironic turn at the end, we learn that the British Secret Service had a file on him, too.  All in all, “the File” is a valuable counterpart of “Die Balaton Brigade” by Georgy Dalos.