East German documents provide a crucial piece of history, supporters of the project say, but putting them back together could take hundreds of years. A computerized system would help, but it’s costly.
Reporting from Berlin and Zirndorf, Germany, – Martina Metzler peers at the piles of paper strips spread across four desks in her office. Seeing two jagged edges that match, her eyes light up and she tapes them together.
“Another join, another small success,” she says with a wry smile — even though at least two-thirds of the sheet is still missing.
Metzler, 45, is a “puzzler,” one of a team of eight government workers that has attempted for the last 14 years to manually restore documents hurriedly shredded by East Germany’s secret police, or Stasi, in the dying days of one of the Soviet bloc’s most repressive regimes.
Two decades after the heady days when crowds danced atop the Berlin Wall, Germany has reunited and many of its people have moved on. But historians say it is important to establish the truth of the Communist era, and the work of the puzzlers has unmasked prominent figures in the former East Germany as Stasi agents. In addition, about 100,000 people annually apply to see their own files.