On the 20th anniversary of German reunification, details of life in the communist East continue to be revealed. The latest disclosure being most read reports — of West German intelligence agents operating behind the Iron Curtain — which contained information such as this: “What would happen if the desert became communist? Nothing for a while, and then there would be a sand shortage.” Or this: “Did East Germans originate from apes? Impossible. Apes could never have survived on just two bananas a year.”
West German spies, it appears according to recently released intelligence files, diligently collected andrecorded jokes to gain insights into the public mood and to amuse their masters in Bonn.Der Spiegel this week has given a few examples.
“Why does West Germany have a higher standard of living than we do? Because communists can’t get work permits there.”
“The Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 spawned a new proverb, for example: If the farmer falls off his tractor, he must be close to a reactor.”
Chernobyl, incidentally, wasn’t an accident, another joke went: ”It was just a Soviet program to X-ray its population.”
Not that telling jokes in East Germany — a country where the Stasi had 91,000 employees and a network of about 189,000 civilian informants to spy on the East German population of 17 million — was risk free. Der Spiegel points out that there were cases of people who were jailed, which gave rise to this one:
“There are people who tell jokes. There are people who collect jokes and tell jokes. And there are people who collect people who tell jokes.”