Piecing Together Germany's Shredded Stasi Files Stasi

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When the Berlin Wall began to crumble in 1989, East Germany's Ministry for State Security, the Stasi, decided to destroy all the evidence of 40 years of spying on fellow countrymen. But, like something out of a Cold War comedy, the Stasi's cheap shredders broke soon after they started, leaving agents to use their hands to tear the records into 600 million pieces, some as small as a fingernail. The pieces were supposed to be destroyed, but the Stasi never got around to incinerating them. To this day, they fill around 16,000 garbage bags stored in the basement of the former state security headquarters in Berlin, their secrets lost in a pile of millions of tiny shreds of paper.

But that was before the e-Puzzler. Using a machine that runs software that they developed, scientists in Berlin plan to use the world's most sophisticated pattern-recognition technology to put the shredded Stasi files back together, and help piece together a part of the past that was long considered lost forever.

The e-Puzzler is really the next step in a process that started back in 1991, when a team of 45 civil servants set out to manually reassemble the documents. Working with Scotch tape, they pieced together 90,000 pages, revealing Stasi collaborators and their victims. But by August 2009, the team was down to eight people, and they had only gone through 350 bags. At that pace, sifting through the rest would take another 800 years....

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