Piecing together history -- some 600m shreds of Stasi documents

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BERLIN -- It is the most complex jigsaw puzzle of all time, so difficult that even a sophisticated new software program will need at least five years to match the millions of pieces.

The German Government has now earmarked €6.3 million (£4 million) for the project: fitting together about 600 million shreds of secret police files ripped up in panic by Stasi agents after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

When the puzzle is complete, the files are likely to shed light on some of Germany’s most elusive secrets –- on betrayed politicians, on Communist attempts to recruit Nato secretaries and foreign academics, on undercover operations across the globe.

“Even the small samples we have glued together so far have shown that the files deal with important matters,” says Günter Bormann, of the government agency in charge of analysing the Stasi archives.

Until now employees at the agency have been sticking the pieces together by hand, spreading the fragments across large desks and trying to find names, handwriting and signatures that match.

Since 1991, 25 officials have painstakingly processed 350 sacks of paper secrets. Altogether there are 16,250 sacks –- at the present rate it would take several centuries to solve the Stasi jigsaw.

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