The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit ("Ministry of State Security") was the Secret Police / State Sec of East Germany. Their job was to find dissenters and torture them into becoming productive members of the state. From this emerged the most frighteningly effective and efficient secret police in Europe.
What especially made Stasi infamous was their decision in the 1970s to drop the old totalitarian MO of arresting and torturing dissents after deeming it too ineffective, and instead instigate campaigns of psychological harassment and manipulation of their targets, something which also extended to their interrogation and punishment techniques where "cruder" courses of action, such as beatings and hard labor, were often foregone in favor of more insidious things, such as extremely prolonged solitary confinement. As an old saying goes "The Gestapo were bone breakers. The Stasi were soul breakers."
The psychological torture employed by the Stasi against political undesirables was a form of gaslighting known as Zersetzung, with the idea that it will eventually cause them to have a mental breakdown and have too little energy to challenge the government. The biggest advantage that Zersetzung gave was that its subtle nature meant that it was able to be plausibly denied.
The Stasi also took mass surveillance to new heights. To give you a baseline, the old KGB "only" had one officer for every 5,830 citizens, and its modern counterpart (the FSB in Putin's Russia) can work about 1 officer for 273 citizens. The best the Gestapo could manage was one officer for 2,000 citizens. The Stasi had one officer for every 166 citizens of East Germany. And these numbers only count official full-time agents—when you include the vast numbers of East Germans who were at one time or another acting as part-time or even full-time informants for the Stasi, the number goes up to one in seven by some estimates. No one was sure if they were being watched or not, and could never tell if their friends or family were informing on them. Often people had no choice.
Despite attempts by officers to destroy them, most of the archives were taken intact after the Wall fell - the old headquarters is now a museum, as is the prison at Hohenschönhausen.
Being people of good humour, the East Germans had numerous jokes about their Big Brothers:
- How can you tell that the Stasi has bugged your apartment? There's a new cabinet in it.
- [GDR General Secretary Erich] Honecker and [Stasi chief Erich] Mielke are discussing their hobbies. Honecker: "I collect all the jokes about me." Mielke: "Well we have almost the same hobby. I round up all those who tell jokes about you."
Just about anything that takes place in East Germany has a good chance to include the Stasi:
- The Lives of Others. The central character is an agent of the Stasi who is tasked to spy the life of a playwright. The actor who plays him was himself spied on by his wife working for themjust like what happens in the film.
- Night Crossing: referred to as the "SSD", or Staatsicherheitdienst
- Appears in The Spy Who Came In from the Cold.
- Anna Funder's Stasiland is a non-fiction novel following Australian journalist Funder as she collects stories from ex-Stasi men and their victims.
- In Deutschland 83, the main character is forced to infiltrate the West by the Stasi. It's one of the few pieces of media in reunified Germany to show the Stasi in a Grey and Grey Morality setting rather than as automatic Acceptable Targets which led to some Germans disavowing the film.
- In Schwarzesmarken the Stasi serve as the true antagonists in the series compared to the Horde of Alien Locusts that are the BETA by hampering the progress of the NVA and launching a coup for power. Other than the obvious Bug War and their use of Humongous Mecha, they're far less subtle compared to their Real Life counterparts that work in the shadows especially with their villainous traits cranked Up to Eleven.
- Almost any person who was old enough to have possibly been related to the Stasi in any way shape or form either touts their opposition to them, is denounced as a collaborator, or both. This is especially true for politicians who grew up in East Germany.
- John le Carré wrote about British versus Soviet intelligence, but his mastermind Karla is based on Markus Wolf, who ran the Stasi's foreign intelligence division for nearly the entire existence of the Stasi.