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Last on

Fri 14 Sep 2012 11:00 BBC Radio 4

Duration:
28 minutes
First broadcast:
Friday 14 September 2012

The East German secret service, the Stasi, loved to keep records. It built up a library of hundreds of thousands of files on its own people. When the order came to destroy those files, in late 1989, there was so much paper to get through that the state's shredders collapsed under the pressure. They then resorted to using chemicals and burning and, finally, to simply tearing them up by hand, until ordinary people themselves stormed the Stasi buildings and rescued what they could. Amongst the files that were rescued, they found 16,000 sackfuls of torn up bits of paper.

Over the last fifteen years a small group of people near Nuremberg has been painstakingly trying to put those bits of paper back together; but the task was going to take 400 years to complete.

An expert in image processing, Dr. Bertram Nikolay came forward with his E-puzzler prototype computer, which is being put through its paces. Dr. Nikolay says the E-puzzler will be able to read the scraps of paper and put them back together in just a few years.

In The Stasi Jigsaw Puzzle Chris Bowlby returns to Berlin, where he spent time as a student in the divided city, and meets the scientists hoping to rescue the destroyed Stasi paper archive. He also hears some disturbing audio archive which is being catalogued; there are stories from some of the Stasi's victims and we hear how, twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the search for the truth within the archives is as important as ever.

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