Konrad Reich

As I have reported elsewhere, my Stasi-file reveals that there were at least ten unofficial collaborators of one sort or another who both informed on my GDR-related activities and gathered information on me for the Ministry for State Security (MfS). Three were writers: IMV “Pedro Hagen,” the prominent prose writer and opportunist, Fritz Rudolf Fries; IM “Uwe,” the poet Uwe Berger, a cunning opportunist motivated more by careerism than ideology; and IME “Dichter” (Poet), Paul Wiens, an unscrupulous poet and communist party loyalist. Another collaborator from the literary sphere was the highly regarded publisher, Konrad Reich, who until the 2013 publication of my memoir, Von Oberlin nach Ostberlin (From Oberlin to East Berlin), had not been outed as an informer.

            In September 1975, as I was about to begin work on a book focusing on GDR literature in the 1970s, my writer friend Ulrich Plenzdorf introduced me to his publisher, Konrad Reich. Reich was head of the Hinstorff Verlag, a prestigious publishing house in Rostock known for publishing works by authors who were controversial and trying to push the envelope. Plenzdorf and I had lunch with Reich at Hotel Unter den Linden in Berlin, and I was flattered when Reich not only expressed interest in my project but also in possibly publishing it in the GDR, something I had never imagined might be possible. Many GDR writers considered him to be an entrepreneurial spirit, a well-connected mover and shaker who could make the most unlikely things happen. Almost twenty-five years later, with the help of my file, I would learn that Reich had a second identity and a special assignment related to me.

                In June 1976 I drove to Rostock, a large port city in the northeastern part of the GDR, where I had arranged to meet with Konrad Reich and two writers living in that area. My file contains a ten-page document labelled “IM-Report,” Rostock, June 23, 1976. “Department XV“ appears in the upper left corner. It begins: “Dr. Richard Zipser visited me in my apartment on Sunday, 6/20/1976. I already provided information previously on what this is about.” Reading on, I quickly realize that the author of this document is none other than the director of one of the GDR’s most respected publishing houses, the Hinstorff Verlag. Konrad Reich prefaces the report to his Stasi-handler with the following information about me, my activities in the Rostock area, and my travel plans:

He has now finished his first stay in Berlin and afterwards visited me.

I would like to say in advance that his visit with me was just one part of
his program.

On Saturday, he conferred the entire day with the writer Siegfried
Pitschmann here in Rostock and on Monday with Martin Stade.

He drove in his automobile to Rerik and spent the night at Stade’s
place. I had asked him to pass through Rostock again on his way back
and stop by, so I could hear what things had emerged during his
conversations with Stade.

However, he then drove on the direct route to Berlin, via Schwerin I
think, because he had to be back in Vienna (his place of residence for the
past year) by a certain point in time. He will be staying on in Vienna
until 7/21/1976 and then will return to America.

Recalling our conversation, Reich then launches into a discussion of my project, its purpose and potential for harming the GDR, and my person.

Re the matter at hand:

He has interviewed 35 GDR writers. These 35 GDR writers had received
advance information from him in the form of a questionnaire, which he
recited from memory. I made a mental note of such questions as:

What do you consider to be the most important example of GDR
literature in recent years?

How do you relate to the socialist society of the GDR?

What do you derive from the working class?

What sort of connections do you have with factories, agricultural
production cooperatives, or other producers of goods?

What role does the relationship between emancipated women and
society play in your writing?

How is the set of problems related to youth reflected in your writing?

What are you working on now?

What is your basic aesthetic concept?

What is your view on political interference in the area of literature?

Tell me about your projects for the coming years.

The wording of the questions may deviate here and there, but that of the
last question is absolutely accurate. I formulated the exact sense of each
question from memory because these are all things that are familiar to

In addition, the authors were all called upon to select a prose text or
poetic work which could be taken as evidence of their theoretical
position or as a particularly typical example, about which the author
himself is convinced that it is a typical example of his literary potential.

The authors have complied with his request, generally with published
works that already have appeared in the GDR. But 10 authors, among
others Günter Kunert, who gave him 12 poems to choose from, Sarah
Kirsch—poems, Bernd Jentzsch—poems. So poets especially, as one can
see, have sent unpublished texts to him in Vienna, which he can then
use later on.

These 35 authors—Stade and Pitschmann were the most recent—have
answered all the questions and, to be precise, not in writing (except for
the literary documents); on the contrary everything was tape recorded.
Still not participating is Erwin Strittmatter, the only writer up to now
who has refused to be interviewed, but Zipser is going to try again to
win him over in Berlin. All in all, more than 80 tapes have been
recorded. Some of these conversations and interviews lasted for more
than 2½ hours.

Dr. Richard Zipser is basically a very pleasant-natured person, but I am
unable to say anything about his mission (later I will say something
more about him as a person). He told me, in an extremely triumphant
manner, that all of the authors more or less indicated explicitly that
they were interacting more openly with him as an American than they
would with someone who came from a socialist country or the GDR. He
told me that the material he had was nothing less than sensational
because the writers spoke out without restraint, to some extent even
about their own colleagues; and also because, of course, in a tape-
recorded conversation so much more emerges through the oral
communication than would if one only provided written answers to
questions 1-10.

I believe that this can become a document that will cause us more
problems than all the cultural-political trouble some people stirred up
in recent years.

Zipser also came up with an interesting idea. His book will have 800-
900 pages; in America that will be 2 large volumes, each with 400-450
pages. The format of this edition will be as follows: Zipser will introduce
all 35 authors with a short biographical sketch and analysis. Photos of
the authors will then be presented along with the literary texts that the
authors have selected. In the second part of the book all the authors’
answers to each question will be listed separately and in alphabetical
order, showing how each one answered question 1) and then question 2),

This method is tremendously underhanded. But what is even more
interesting is the material that we have handed over here to a young
American literary scholar, which apparently has enormous firepower
and explosive force.

Reich’s comments on our acquaintanceship reveal his enormous ego and sense of self-importance. Note that he makes reference to the luncheon we had (together with Ulrich Plenzdorf) at Hotel Unter den Linden in the fall of 1975, at which time he expressed interest in possibly publishing my book.

Zipser has a great deal of trust in me. That results from the following:

1. Adopting the perspective of many different types of GDR writers, he
recognizes me as a publisher who in his entire behavior is never
deceitful, who prefers instead to part company with someone if a
political or ideological concept does not suit that person.

2. Obviously, persons such as Plenzdorf or Schlesinger must have said
positive things about me, e.g., that one can get along with me, even
though it may go against the grain sometimes, because my views—as
everyone knows—don’t always coincide with many of the views
prevalent in the GDR, at least within these circles.

3. I have the impression that he also values my opinion somewhat and
has respect for me. Such things really happen in life!

4. He was pleased when I told him, back then at our first meeting in
“Linden”—I informed you about this—that I would be interested in
making something like that happen [Reich refers here to the publication of
my book in the GDR], but said that this idea ought to remain between the
two of us.

5. As instructed, I showed my loyalty somewhat. For example, when
Zipser related that he had visited [blacked out] and [blacked out] asked
him if Erik Neutsch was also included, and he said “yes,” and then was
asked if Hermlin also was included, and then he again said “yes,”
whereupon [blacked out] remarked: amazing, amazing Mr. Zipser, what
you are doing, neither the one nor the other is a writer.

Well, when I hear something like that I would normally make a rather
annoyed face because

1. Neutsch and Hermlin are not comparable and

2. that is a really stupid comment by this arrogant [blacked out], who
otherwise is indeed a very good writer, but a terribly arrogant man.

But here I joined in laughing.

[I am certain that Peter Hacks is the author whose name is blacked out in
section 5 above—and Reich is right, Hacks was very arrogant.]

Sequence of Events:

He plans to finish writing Part I, which I spoke about earlier, by the
summer of 1977.

By the spring of 1977 all of the tapes are supposed to be transcribed in
America and available as typewritten material.

In the second half of 1977 the tapes are going to be edited down and,
accordingly, the transcribed versions of the tapes will be sent back to the
authors—our authors—and then put together in the first half of 1978 so
that both volumes of the book can be published in the second half of

I told Zipser once again that I am interested, from the standpoint of a
publisher, in his entire undertaking, but that my interest has to be kept
under wraps.

If I am telling you that here, we also have to consider—for example—
whether or not I report that to my Main Directorate.

That’s how I expressed my interest to him, however for the purpose of
our GDR security, not because I am interested from the publishing

After that he explained that in February or March he will be coming to
Vienna or the GDR with at least 2/3 of the entire manuscript, and he
asked me if we could meet for two or three days, in order to go through
everything together. I am supposed to read everything and might
possibly receive copies, but by summer 1977 I will definitely receive the
entire manuscript which as yet no one has gotten to see.

I asked him whether he has done the following: For instance, if when he
was visiting Günter Kunert, he revealed to him what Schlesinger had

As a matter of principle, he did not do that, since that would of course be
very dishonest. He cannot afford to do that because the entire group of
writers would then be at his throat, and he also assured me emphatically
that up to now no one, not even his wife, knows or has seen anything. He
wants to give me the first look in the spring and the whole thing by
summer 1977. He said he would need my advice in order to bring the
project to completion. And that very important advice would be on the
Wolf Biermann problem.

He has therefore not visited and not interviewed Biermann. He
explained, however, that he cannot publish this book in America with 35
of the best known and most distinguished GDR authors, if Biermann is

I can understand the predicament of publishing such a book in the midst
of the sensational and politically adversarial tendencies of American
publishing houses. For them, a person like Biermann, particularly since
his recordings are being sold everywhere in America, is of course a
tremendous drawing card. Zipser would not be able to find a capitalist
publisher for his book, if Biermann is not included. Then he asked me,
what he ought to do. I’ll now repeat what he had to say: He could write a
foreword and in it explain that the GDR is quarreling with Biermann at
present and has been for a long time for whatever reasons, and therefore
he didn’t feel obligated to include Biermann—that wouldn’t work.

What would then happen is that the book would not be accepted for
publication in America.

The second thing is that none of the GDR writers has asked him if
Biermann is being included.

By the way, one needs to think about this comment for a moment,
because it actually means that no one was alert enough to consider the
company he would actually be in with the interview.

According to Zipser, whenever he had been asked, he had always said, he
was still contemplating that but didn’t know for certain.

And then he asked me if it would be all right for him to say vis-à-vis the
GDR—until all his work is finished and to secure permission to re-enter
the country and do other things—that Biermann is not being included,
but in the meantime do an interview with Biermann and then, when all
work on the project here in the GDR has been completed, include him in
the book without informing the GDR.

To be sure, it is not necessary for me to comment on that.

I told him without hesitation, because my loyalty could only extend so
far, that I consider that wrong as a matter of principle and indeed from
moral points of view, such as that of telling lies, falseness,
underhandedness, political conspiracy, etc.; but then I told him that I
would think about everything, whereupon he said repeatedly that this
was just between ourselves, of course, and when we see each other in
February or March I can tell him how he ought to proceed, and he gave
me his word that he would not do anything as far as Biermann is
concerned between now and February/March.

I don’t know if he will keep that promise. But since he drove right back
to Berlin from Stade’s place, and wanted to try to get ahold of
Strittmatter from Berlin, and then immediately head for Vienna and in
the last ten days of July (i.e., July 21, 22, 23) depart for home, and not
return again until February/March of next year, I assume that in the
meantime nothing can go wrong.

Reich then speculates on the damage my project, once published, could
do to the GDR: “For me the whole thing was interesting only insofar that I just now realize that here the GDR, with grandiose vigilance, has latched onto something that makes everything previously written look like hymnbooks versus what is playing out here.” He is exaggerating, of course, but his assessment reflects the paranoia that pervaded GDR society, at every level.

How is he financing his stay?

After waiting seven years, he received a one-year paid leave from his
university where he has a regular appointment as assistant professor, in
order to carry out this project. The reason he gave for this is that in
America, after a seven-year affiliation with a university, professors
receive a paid one-year sabbatical leave. Using this money, he has
rented an apartment in Vienna for his wife and himself (he does not have
children) and is financing his travels and his stay. Just to test him, I
offered to cover his overnight stay here. But he apparently prepaid
everything in West German marks through a tourist agency.

He brought along and dropped off this movie actress from Berlin, Evelyn
Opyschinski [Opoczynski], who once made a film with Manfred Krug and
is now doing something or other for GDR television. I don’t know if he’s
having an affair with her.

His stay in Vienna is being financed by his university in Oberlin, Ohio.

Reich concludes his report with this commentary on my person.

Personal information:

He is about 30 years old, doesn’t belong to any political group, presents
himself as very left-progressive, which doesn’t really mean anything.
That is only meaningful in comparison to the rather stupid and rigid
American literary scholarship, which to a certain extent is utterly
reactionary, apart from a few exceptions.

His demeanor is quite unassuming.

For as long as I have known him, he has been running around in the
same jeans outfit and pullover sweater.

He doesn’t smoke, drinks moderately, and makes a kind of solid citizen
impression—very pleasant-natured, really nice, not at all provocative or

So I would say, if one knew precisely who this person is, a likable fellow.
But even if one doesn’t know that, he has a genuinely modest, reserved
character, which apparently really impressed the GDR authors.

But it is interesting that his demeanor was so laid back that in the end
almost every writer said he was the right interview partner. With a
different person, someone from the socialist countries and the GDR, the
writers never would have been able to connect in the way they had done.

At the foot of the final page of Reich’s report, one sees “gez. IM” (signed by unofficial collaborator), confirming that he was an informant and secretly providing information to the Stasi. However, in contrast to the other informants who contributed to my file, no code name appears—and he may not have had one. But the title of this document, “IM-Bericht” (IM-Report), his use of the word “auftragsgemäss” (as instructed) which clearly indicates he was carrying out a special assignment, and the reference he makes to his “Hauptverwaltung” (Main Directorate), lead me and should prompt others also to conclude that Reich was indeed  a high-level collaborator.

After reading this report, I could not help but wonder if Reich informed on writers whose books he published during his many years as head of the Hinstorff Verlag. And if he did, why was he not outed as so many other collaborators were in the 1990s? How did he manage to conceal his connection to the Stasi?

In my mind’s eye, I try to picture Reich. While I have only a hazy memory of him from our two meetings, I somehow am able to bring him clearly into focus, especially after seeing photos of him on the internet. As regards his personality, I recall that he was a confident, self-assured, expansive, take-charge, can-do person. Plenzdorf, who liked and admired him, called him a “Macher,” a person who gets things done, a real rarity in the bureaucratic GDR. Today, I know just who and what Konrad Reich really was—an informant and imposter.

Konrad Reich was born in Magdeburg in 1928. His early education included vocational training in the book trade, which enabled him early on to become a manager of folklore, antiquarian, and other types of specialty bookstores. In 1959 he became the youngest publisher in the GDR when he assumed the position of Director of the Hinstorff Verlag in Rostock. He held that prestigious post until 1977, when a conflict between a number of Hinstorff’s authors and the ruling SED Party led to his resignation. While serving as publisher, Reich wrote and published a number of local history and geography books and was also active as an editor and screenplay writer. After the reunification of Germany in 1990, he established his own publishing house, the Konrad-Reich-Verlag, which eventually was taken over by Hinstorff and incorporated into its program as Edition Konrad Reich. Reich remained a highly visible and admired figure in the Rostock community until his death in 2010. I learned from an acquaintance in Rostock that there was a plan to honor him posthumously by creating a Konrad-Reich-Literaturhaus, but that plan was quietly dropped after the publication in 2013 of Von Oberlin nach Ostberlin, which exposed him as a Stasi informant. I am pleased that I was in a position to make that contribution to Reich’s legacy.

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