Fritz Rudolf Fries

“Im Alter stellt er verwundert fest, dass er das zwanzigste Jahrhundert hinter sich gebracht hat, mit einigen Wunden zwar, für die ihn die Gesellschaft nicht dekorieren wird.”

In old age he is amazed to discover that he has made it through the twentieth century, albeit with some wounds, for which society will not award him a medal.

                                                Fritz Rudolf Fries                     December 2001

            I am going to lead off with Fritz Rudolf Fries, a talented but morally corrupt prose writer who in the role of informant contributed more pages to my Stasi-file than any other East German citizen. For this reason I decided to focus on him first, even though he was not the most unscrupulous or despicable individual in the group of individuals who informed against me.

             Fries was outed as a Stasi collaborator in 1996. He began working as an informant for the GDR’s Ministry for State Security (MfS) in 1972, initially as an IM, then as a trustworthy IMV, next as an even more trusted IMS, and finally as a totally reliable IMB, one of the highest levels in the ranks of Stasi informants. He worked for the Stasi until at least 1985, under the code name “Pedro Hagen” and under the watchful eye of his handler, First Lieutenant/later on Captain Gerhard Hoffmann. Fries informed on his colleagues (e.g., Sarah Kirsch, Kurt Bartsch, Klaus Schlesinger, Günter de Bruyn and Hans Christoph Buch) and on persons of interest like myself; he passed along information gathered at receptions in embassies and gatherings in private homes, and he dutifully carried out special assignments both at home and abroad. One of those assignments, which he began executing unhesitatingly in May 1978, was to gather information and report on the activities, plans, and intentions of Richard Zipser in relation to his projects on GDR literature. The file reports reveal how Fries became increasingly willing to cooperate as a Stasi collaborator, no longer expressing reservations about his assignments as he had done at the outset. Hoffmann, who worked with Fries for many years, patiently molded him into an exemplary informant. But Fries, eager for privileges such as permission to travel to the US and Spain in particular and the assignment of an apartment in Berlin, was more than willing to let himself be molded by Hoffman. In retrospect, one could say that this was the perfect marriage between a GDR writer and his Stasi-handler. Both parties benefitted from it, albeit in very different ways.

             In 1981, Fries was rewarded for his excellent work as a Stasi collaborator and permitted to visit the US, in order to carry out a special assignment related to me. In early March, while I was a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Fries requested and received permission from the GDR authorities to visit the US from March 17 to May 4, 1981. While there is no mention of this trip in my Stasi-file, a large section of Fries’s file is devoted to it. His status as an informant had been upgraded from IMS to IMB, which signals a higher level of trust, reliability, and responsibility. IMB “Pedro Hagen” would not just collaborate with the Stasi and inform on persons of interest to them, he would actively help protect the GDR state against certain persons who were considered threats to its security.

            On May 13, 1981, nine days after his return from the US, IMB “Pedro Hagen” met with his Stasi-handler for seven hours and reported orally on his trip to the US. The handwritten report on their meeting, prepared by Stasi officer Hoffmann, appears in its entirety in Fries’s file and is followed by the detailed report Fries gave on what he experienced in the US. In his report Hoffmann expresses satisfaction about the way Fries carried out his assignment abroad and the loyalty he exhibited in various ways during their meeting. Specifically, he notes: “In his political attitude the IM appeared steadfast and hardened by the wealth of experiences in the USA. . . . He initiated activities in the USA that enabled him to proceed as instructed and demonstrated perseverance, e.g., in the efforts he made to contact Dr. Zipser. . . . [His] report is considered to be valuable operatively, for defense as well as for reconnaissance purposes.”

            From my perspective, the most interesting document in Fries’s file is a three-page report on his trip to the San Francisco Bay area and Stanford University, where he visited with me as he had hoped and planned to do. The report was prepared by his Stasi-handler Hoffmann, based on information Fries communicated to him orally in their May 13 meeting. One can see clearly how Fries was able to gain Hoffmann’s trust following his return from the US. It is obvious that Fries enjoyed his first trip to America and understood what he needed to say and how he should behave in order to be granted further travel privileges and perhaps other privileges in the future. He had learned how to play the system and decided to use it to his advantage. Of course, Fries—like everyone else—could not foresee the day when the Berlin Wall and the GDR state would collapse, leading eventually to the discovery of his Stasi-file and his outing as a trusted informant.

            The report Hoffmann prepared is too long to include here in its entirety, so I have decided to present some excerpts that reveal what Fries thought might be of interest to his Stasi-handler as regards his visit with me in Stanford. Below are direct quotations from Fries’s file:

During his stay in Washington the IM made an effort to make contact with Dr. Zipser. . . . After a prolonged effort the IM managed to find out that he was not in Oberlin, but engaged as a research fellow [at the Hoover Institution] in Stanford, California.

The Hoover Institution is affiliated with Stanford University. It is for all intents and purposes the center of the university. . . . Scholars in the US consider the Hoover Institution to be extremely conservative.

Dr. Zipser is currently working at this Hoover Institution, which has awarded him a research fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to enable Dr. Zipser to complete work on his book about GDR literature. He intends to return to Oberlin College in August 1981. Dr. Zipser’s project is therefore being finished with financial support from the Hoover Institution. He is working on the three volumes that comprise the book and has no other responsibilities.

The book Dr. Zipser is preparing should be the most comprehensive work on GDR literature to date; there is nothing comparable up to now. This work is supposed to satisfy the needs of American Germanists primarily.

At the Hoover Institution Dr. Zipser is regarded as the foremost expert in the area of GDR literature, since he has in-depth knowledge of GDR literature and its development, and in addition to that he knows a large number of GDR writers from personal experience.

Apparently, he is also very aware of his status. He made an affable and approachable impression.

Dr. Zipser has published a volume of poetry by GDR lyric poets in the USA. The book appeared in two languages and supposedly contains a representative cross section.

The impression came into being that in the USA Dr. Zipser occupies a central position among the Germanists and would like to control those Germanists who are dealing with GDR literature.

All in all, the impression that emerged was that the visit was not particularly enjoyable for him. He did behave in a friendly, jovial manner, but was not as pleasant-natured and outgoing as during his visits in the GDR.

            At the end of the report form there is a section for comment, where Hoffmann wrote: “The IM reported as per instructions; there is no reason to doubt the truthfulness of the information provided.”

            Fries’s main reward for his exemplary work as a collaborator, as far as I can tell, was the privilege of travelling to non-socialist countries; he was a passionate traveller, so this perquisite was particularly important to him. In Alle meine Hotel Leben: Reisen 1957-1979 (All My Hotel Lives: Travels 1957-1979, 1980), Fries reflects in short impressionistic prose texts on his travels to faraway places such as Cuba, Argentina, Albania, Poland, Slovakia, Barcelona, Bruges, Paris and Normandy, as well as to some destinations close to home, such  as Leipzig and Zwickau. In each of these fifteen prose pieces, his love of travel is on full display. His carefully crafted texts bring to life places in foreign countries that most GDR citizens would never have been able to visit.

            In his 320-page memoir, Diogenes auf der Parkbank (Diogenes on the Park Bench, Berlin: Das Neue Berlin, 2002), Fries uses humor, hyperbole, sarcasm, and even self-pity to rationalize his decision to work for the Stasi and downplay its importance. In a section titled Operativer Vorgang “Autor” (Operative Activity “Author”), he compares himself to Faust who entered into a pact with the devil. Fries’s devil, of course, is his Stasi-handler. In an effort to defend himself and his despicable actions in the presence of real and imagined accusers who ask “How could you?”, he writes about himself in the third person, unable to use the personal pronoun “I” as he does in other sections of the book. Perhaps he is trying to distance himself from Fritz Rudolf Fries, the informant.

Was war es, dass er den “Pakt mit dem Teufel” unterschrieb, nach fast zehnjähriger Verweigerung, und sich, zum Jux, mit Faust verglich? Nun hatte er gestundete Zeit, und er würde sagen und schreiben können, was er wolle—sofern (und daran dachte er zunächst kaum) er den Teufel mit kleinen Brosamen zufriedenstellte. Er würde endlich reisen können, Spanien war sein Ziel. Von schleichender Krankheit bedroht (er weist auf seine Krücken) seien diese Jahre die einzigen, die ihm noch grössere Reisen erlaubten. Und: Was genau wollte denn der Teufel? Er wollte Auskunft über die Verhältnisse in Spanien nach Francos Tod. Das zu liefern sei kein Vergehen gewesen, diente es doch dazu, die diplomatischen Beziehungen zwischen der DDR und Spanien aufzubauen. Etliche seiner Kollegen und Verwandten konnten daraufhin privat und dienstlich nach Spanien reisen . . . Und je mehr die DDR diplomatische Anerkennung fand, desto mehr wurde sie ein Opfer ihrer Widersprüche. [. . .] Wem konnte es schaden, wenn er nach einer Reise seinem Führungsoffizier einen Bericht gab, mündlich, den er schriftlich dem Schriftstellerverband oder dem PEN Zentrum zu geben verpflichtet war. (238)

What led him to sign the “pact with the devil” after refusing to do so for almost ten years and, in jest, to compare himself to Faust? Now he was on borrowed time and would be able to say and write what he wanted—provided that (and initially he hardly thought about it) he satisfied the devil with little breadcrumbs. He would finally be able to travel, Spain was his objective. He was threatened by an insidious disease (he exhibits his crutches) that would make these years the only ones in which he would be capable of longer journeys. And: What precisely did the devil want? He wanted information on the state of affairs in Spain after Franco’s death. Providing that would not have been an offence; after all it served to build up diplomatic relations between the GDR and Spain. A number of his colleagues and relatives would later on be able to travel privately and on business to Spain . . . And the more diplomatic recognition the GDR would gain, the more it would become a victim of its inconsistencies. [. . .] Whom could it harm if he gave his case officer a report, orally, after returning from a trip, the report he was obliged to give in written form to the Writers’ Union or the PEN Center.

Fries’s effort to present himself as innocent of any real wrongdoing is not convincing, and it is clear that he too is not convinced of his innocence. The final section of the book, In einem anderen Land (In Another Country), finds him on vacation in Sri Lanka. The last paragraph, in which he may indirectly be admitting that he erred and asking for forgiveness, reads:
Die Buddhisten glauben an eine Wiedergeburt. Je nach der Schuld, die wir in diesem Leben angehäuft haben, erreichen wir im nächsten Leben eine höhere oder niedrigere Daseinsform. Es ist eine grosse Geste des Verzeihens in dieser Lehre, und die Mahnung, sein Leben in jeder Stufe bewusst zu leben.

The Buddhists believe in reincarnation. Depending on the sins that we have amassed during this life, we will attain a higher or lower form of being in the next life. There is a grand gesture of forgiveness in this teaching, and the reminder to live every stage of one’s life consciously.

            Fries, who died in December 2014, never apologized for his career as an informant and probably did not have any real regrets, except for being outed and this: despite the fact that he was an accomplished fiction writer, essayist, editor, and translator, one will always think of him as an informant first and then as a writer. That is a punishment he most assuredly earned and deserves. If you describe someone as unsavory, you are saying that you find that person to be disagreeable, offensive, or morally reprehensible. In closing, let me state with conviction that Fritz Rudolf Fries was in many respects an unsavory character.

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