As one of the most feared and repressive secret police agencies in the world, it is difficult to imagine Stasi officials in fancy dress.
But a collection of photos recently unearthed by Berlin-based artist Simon Menner in the Stasi archives reveals a side to the life of a secret policeman that is rarely seen.
While spending two years trawling through previously confidential paperwork for his upcoming book (Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives), Mr Menner found a series of images documenting the exotic guises of Stasi personnel. These photos allow us to spy on the spies, showing “the act of surveillance from the perspective of the survelliant”, in the artist’s words.
Some of the images were taken during a seminar teaching Stasi agents how to disguise themselves on the job. The props used are so comically conspicuous that they are reminiscent of a child’s dressing-up box: gold-rimmed sunglasses, fake moustaches and a variety of ridiculous hats.
The bizarrely clad figure with a red cardigan and oversized seventies collar is sporting a disguise described by the Stasi as “mama’s boy with an innocent air”, while the agent standing by the side of a road with a backpack is masquerading as a hitchhiker.
But these outfits were not purely donned for espionage. Mr Menner also unearthed a number of photos taken at the birthday party of an influential Stasi official. The guests had been asked to come disguised as members of demographic groups that were under particular Stasi surveillance, including athletes, peace activists covered with badges and church dignitaries in full religious regalia.
Despite their terrorising reputation, these secret agents held childish fancy dress parties, some even wearing tutus in an effort to look like ballerinas.