ABSTRACT

People’s differing memories of the GDR are influenced by their present as well as their past experiences. The opening of the Stasi files revealed devastating information about Stasi informers within the church. It was seized upon by unsympathetic media and used by individuals to settle old scores. Uncertain how to react, the church became defensive. Internally, there was a debate about justice, forgiveness and the need to understand why people acted as they did. It may be that the time is only now ripe for a true assessment of the past. Directly after the unification of Germany, an authority to process the Stasi files and two successive commissions of inquiry were set up. The latter were succeeded by a research foundation on the GDR. The church’s role in the GDR is still the subject of controversy on account of its description of itself as ‘Church within Socialism’ and its political balancing act in the socialist state. Even its contribution to the peaceful revolution is contested by many who see the clergy as having been either a hindrance to the citizens’ movement or hopelessly idealistic. But still in the eyes of many the experience of the East German Protestant Church was of enduring value.