Stasi files: The world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle

More than 20 years after the Berlin Wall fell, you might think the Stasi had been consigned to history. But a new generation wants to know what the East German secret police did to their parents, and computing wizardry is about to make it easier to find out.

The German Democratic Republic (GDR) and its agencies did not disappear immediately once the Berlin Wall fell.

For some weeks afterwards many Stasi staff remained in their offices, trying to destroy evidence that could land them in jail or expose their spies in foreign countries.

But they ran into technical difficulties.

The Stasi was an organisation that loved to keep paper, says Joachim Haussler, who works for the Stasi archives authority today.

It therefore owned few shredders — and those it did have were of poor East German quality and rapidly broke down. So thousands of documents were hastily torn by hand and stuffed into sacks. The plan was to burn or chemically destroy the contents later.

But events overtook the plan, the Stasi was dissolved as angry demonstrators massed outside and invaded its offices, and the new federal authority for Stasi archives inherited all the torn paper.

It amounts, says Haussler, to the biggest puzzle in the world, estimated at between four and six hundred million pieces of paper — some no larger than a fingernail — via

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