For obvious reasons, we often don't talk about how rough the Germans had it in the middle of the 20th century. Both people from the capitalist West and communist East were kept on a short leash under the watchful eyes of their "liberators." So when the Cold War finally ended, a fractured people were finally reunited, ready to pick up the pieces and start again. But some didn't want to forget. Older Germans. Older German women. So instead of rubble or broken glass, the pieces they picked up were thin slices of paper that read "STRENG GEHEIM."
Life in the German Democratic Republic must have been harrowing. Not only did you know the West was so close you could smell the sweet anti-socialist scent of McDonald's 2-for-1-deals, so did your Soviet oppressors. For 28 years, the job of crushing capitalist dreams of owning a Blockbuster's loyalty card was left to the Iron Curtain-laced fist of the Ministry for State Security, better and bitterly known as the Stasi. Considered one of the most terrifying intelligence agencies in the history of secret policing (a history book where every page is 95% censored), the Stasi were infamous for their vast networks of spies, mass disappearances, and, especially, their elaborate note-taking, with every East German fearing that they had a file on them thicker than their borscht rations.
But when their Soviet patrons disappeared, the Stasi were smart enough to realize that, suddenly, all those files were evidence against their crimes, not the people's. So while Germans were celebrating on top of the Berlin Wall, the secret police began one of the biggest document shredding sessions outside of a Rupert Murdoch-owned mailroom, destroying every bit of proof linking them to their terrible (and sometimes terrorist) actions against the German population.
And they all would've gotten away with it, too (as many did) if it weren't for those puzzling women. While most files couldn't be pulled from the jaws of the "shredding wolves," the Stasi's custom machines, in time, much was recovered on the tail-end. Between four to six hundred million pieces of destroyed paper were recovered, many torn by hand as the Stasi's special Soviet shredders buckled under the weight of literal tonnes of documents. Ever since then, putting those pieces back together has been the job of Germany's Puzzle Women, a crack team of 1,800 crossword solvers who've made it their life goals to reassemble the 69 miles long paper trail the Stasi left behind. Today assisted by both man and machine, the remaining team has managed to puzzle together a lot of the Jigsaw shit the Stasi got up to, reading up on the fates of kidnapped children, murdered innocents, or how the ancient head of the Stasi kept complaining about punk and metal music ruining communism.
But the road to making things whole again is a slow one. After thirty years, these expert puzzlers (who now also include men) have only managed to reassemble a few percent of the shredded documents. And while advanced scanning technology like the ePuzzler has been a great help in speeding up the process, there still isn't an AI out there that can beat Germans doggedly putting together the pieces of their police's dark history, one strip of Stasi confetti at a time.
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