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East Berlin Stories: Gay Espionage in Cold War Berlin

ON THE AFTERNOON OF OCTOBER 21, 1960, Joachim L., an East Berlin actor in his twenties, met with his friend Jakob H. They had been having sex regularly, and Joachim likely thought there was nothing out of the ordinary until Jakob suggested that he ought to consider dabbling in espionage. According to a secret police informant—code name “Deege”—who was friends with them both, Jakob and Joachim “were speaking about opportunities to earn money, and H. mentioned that one can easily earn some quick money, up to 3,000 DM per month. When L. asked how that was possible, H. indicated that one could spy.” Joachim related this conversation to “Deege” soon thereafter. The informant encouraged Joachim to take the matter to the secret police, which he soon did. “Deege” also passed the story on to his Stasi handler the next day.

Two days later, gears began to grind at the Stasi’s Berlin offices. An “operative plan” appeared suggesting that the ministry should consider recruiting Joachim. The report stressed that he was in contact with both Jakob and a certain Karl O., “who are allegedly involved in espionage against the GDR and to this end are supposedly recruiting among homosexual circles in order to prepare for and carry out their enemy activities.” The secret police believed Joachim, who would take the code name “Franz Moor,” could provide them with invaluable, even incriminating, evidence against Jakob and Karl. They hoped Joachim would lend “valuable support in unmasking this circle [of spies].”

At the same time, Stasi officers expected that Joachim would help them infiltrate the gay subculture on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In a report two days before Joachim’s official enrollment as a collaborator, officers noted that “because of his large circle of acquaintances, in particular among homosexuals and other negative persons, he is in a position to give us further leads, which could lead to further recruitments.” They anticipated that Joachim could act as their beachhead into Berlin’s gay subculture—the network of bars, public toilets, baths, and house parties where gay men socialized and looked for sex. Secret police officials hoped that he would enable them to enlist their own network of gay spies.

Over the course of almost five years, “Franz Moor” provided the Stasi with information in exchange for regular “monetary contributions” of anywhere from ten to two hundred marks. In an assessment of his services, the Stasi found that he showed “individual initiative in the detection of enemy elements,” and that through his efforts “one enemy person was imprisoned.” Most of Joachim’s tasks over those five years, however, involved not flashy scandal but rather the tedium of everyday espionage.

What “Franz Moor” reported on—and what his Stasi handlers were interested in learning about—provides a glimpse into how gay spy networks shaped the East German regime’s view of homosexuality in socialist society. Spanning four files and more than seven hundred pages, these reports paint a picture of a bureaucracy worried about its inability to surveil Berlin’s gay subculture and reveal its desire to rectify the problem by enlisting gay spies.

Excerpted from States of Liberation: Gay Men between Dictatorship and Democracy in Cold War Germany by Samuel Huneke with permission of University of Toronto Press.

Read entire article at The Baffler