As I have reported elsewhere, my Stasi-file reveals that there were at least ten unofficial collaborators of one sort or another who 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 me.
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), etc.
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 ypes 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 1978.
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 standpoint.
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 said.
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 missing.
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.
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 argumentative.
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.