Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Ever since the children had gone to college abroad, Christian Schlangenberger's wife seemed calmer, and for a few months he’d had a new, young mistress called Felicia. These were long-awaited changes, but they weren’t the most essential. The most significant event of the past year was that, in February, more than 5.8 kilometres of files at the Stasi Records Office, some 20 million pages of A4, had been annulled. They’d disappeared.
He ran through that sentence in his mind once again: 5.8, nearly 6 kilometres of files had disappeared from the Stasi Records Office. The biggest success of his life, the wisest move he’d ever made, like a chess move, checkmate, files gone. If they’d awarded Oscars for that sort of real-life role, he’d have swept the board, for production, screenplay, direction and lead performance. He had planned this move extremely carefully, spreading it over a five-year period, and without involving anyone from outside. The entire operation had been run for him by Frank Derbach, a close and trusted friend, who felt he was doing a favour for a party colleague, the originator and sponsor of this unprecedented operation. He wouldn’t have done it for just anyone. Just for him.
Apart from the months following the fall of the wall, when the security service agents had tried to destroy part of the archive, this was the first incidence of files being eliminated on such a major scale. While the first attempt had been frustrated, thanks to the involvement of outraged citizens of the former GDR, the second, 20 years later, had taken place without much more than a flicker of interest from anyone at all – 5.8 kilometres of files were officially deemed to be dispensable, needlessly occupying clerical time. So the files vanished. Schlangenberger hadn’t had much trouble selling the idea that they were dispensable to the few representatives of the media who were interested in the matter. Of course he knew that not everything could be hidden. In so-called democracies, hiding things never produced the best result. Success depended on whether it could be packaged nicely.