The East German Secret Police’s Illustrated Guide for Identifying Youth Subcultures: Punks, Goths, Teds & More (1985)

Ask Ger­mans who lived under the Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic what they feared most in those days, and they’ll like­ly say the agents of the Min­istry for State Secu­ri­ty, best known as the Stasi. Ask those same Ger­mans what they laughed at most in those days, and they may well give the same answer. As one of the most thor­ough­ly repres­sive secret police forces in human his­to­ry, the Stasi kept a close eye and a tight grip on East Ger­man soci­ety: as one oft-told joke goes, “Why do Stasi offi­cers make such good taxi dri­vers? You get in the car and they already know your name and where you live.” But this fear­some vig­i­lance went hand-in-hand with tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tion as well as plain inep­ti­tude:  “How can you tell that the Stasi has bugged your apart­ment?” anoth­er joke asks. “There’s a new cab­i­net in it and a trail­er with a gen­er­a­tor in the street.”

When the Stasi turned this kind of crude but intense scruti­ny to cer­tain aspects of life, the results almost sat­i­rized them­selves. Take, for instance, this cir­ca-1985 inter­nal guide used to iden­ti­fy the “types of neg­a­tive deca­dent youth cul­tures in the Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic,” post­ed on Twit­ter by musi­cian and writer S. Alexan­der Reed and lat­er trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish by a few of his fol­low­ers.

The chart breaks down the sup­pos­ed­ly deca­dent youth cul­tures of mid-1980s East Ger­many into eight groups, describ­ing their inter­ests, appear­ance, polit­i­cal incli­na­tions, and activ­i­ties in the columns below. The rock-and-roll-ori­ent­ed “Teds,” dressed in a “50s style,” don’t seem to rouse them­selves for any­thing besides “birth and death days of idol­ized rock stars.” The “Tramps,” a “clas­sic man­i­fes­ta­tion of the neg­a­tive-deca­dent youth in the 70s,” adhere to the trends of a some­what more recent era.

The fans of “extreme­ly hard rock” known as “Heav­ies” once held a “dep­reca­tive atti­tude towards state and soci­ety,” but seemed at the time to become “increas­ing­ly soci­ety-con­form­ing.” Oth­er youth cul­tures con­sid­ered deca­dent by the Stasi bore labels that might still sound famil­iar across the world. The “Goths,” a “satan­ic and death cult,” are not­ed for their “glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of creepy effects” and for being “fans of the group The Cure.” Though they may have been “hard­ly noticed oper­a­tional­ly,” the “punks” pre­sent­ed a more clear and present threat, what with their “dep­reca­tive to hos­tile polit­i­cal atti­tude, rejec­tion of all state forms and soci­etal norms,” “anar­chist thoughts,” and belief in “total free­dom.”

You can see the chart in a larg­er size here, and if you’d like to exam­ine the real thing, you have only to vis­it Leipzig’s Muse­um in der Run­den Ecke (or view it online here). The doc­u­ment resides in its col­lec­tion of the tools of the Stasi trade, includ­ing, in the words of Atlas Obscu­ra, “old sur­veil­lance cam­eras, col­lec­tions of con­fis­cat­ed per­son­al let­ters, and crisp uni­forms let­ting vis­i­tors get a glimpse into the world of bru­tal state espi­onage.” Ger­mans who remem­ber all the pow­er the Stasi could poten­tial­ly wield over their lives — a pow­er, for all they knew, about to descend on them any moment — must still feel a chill upon see­ing one of those crisp uni­forms. Now we know that their wear­ers might, upon lay­ing eyes on Birken­stocks (“lit­er­al­ly: ‘Jesus slip­pers‘”), red and black worn togeth­er (“con­trasts as a sym­bol of anar­chy”), or a mohawk (or “Iriquois”) hair­cut, have felt appre­hen­sive them­selves.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bruce Spring­steen Plays East Berlin in 1988: I’m Not Here For Any Gov­ern­ment. I’ve Come to Play Rock

Sovi­ets Boot­legged West­ern Pop Music on Dis­card­ed X‑Rays: Hear Orig­i­nal Audio Sam­ples

How Jazz-Lov­ing Teenagers–the Swingjugend–Fought the Hitler Youth and Resist­ed Con­for­mi­ty in Nazi Ger­many

The Nazis’ 10 Con­trol-Freak Rules for Jazz Per­form­ers: A Strange List from World War II

The Nazis’ Philis­tine Grudge Against Abstract Art and The “Degen­er­ate Art Exhi­bi­tion” of 1937

1980s Met­al­head Kids Are All Right: New Study Sug­gests They Became Well-Adjust­ed Adults

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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