Stasi spywear: the inept art of commie disguise

A trove of photos from an East German secret police guide to disguise reveal an ineptitude that borders on the comical. No wonder these guys managed to miss the fact that the wall was about to come down, despite having dossiers on practically everyone on the country:
At first glance the photos look staged. They show stocky men stiffly clad in various outfits that include fur hats and thick coats with upturned collars -- and, most importantly, sunglasses. But these photos aren't stage props from a silly low-budget spy film, they are images snapped by members of the feared East German secret state police, or Stasi, for an internal course called the "art of disguising."

Berlin-based artist Simon Menner unearthed the images while sifting through the Stasi archives, which were opened to the public after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was allowed to reproduce the photos and they are now on display in an exhibition entitled: "Pictures from the Secret Stasi Archives."

Stasi Chic (via Making Light)



  1. I recommend The Lives of Others as an interesting movie about the fall of the Stasi if this kind of thing piques ones interest.

  2. If these were taken in the 80s, popped collars were normal.

    So would wearing that coat and hat in a soviet influenced area.

  3. When I looked at the slideshow of these pictures on another news site yesterday, I kept thinking that these looked like stills from Kids in the Hall episodes. What is German for “I’m crushing your head”?

    1. Ich bin zerquetscht deinen Kopf is a loose translation.  If you’d like to see it in action, may I present this video:

      1. Your (hilariously incorrect) German literally translates to “I am crushed your head” which is awesome in and of itself.

  4. You know, the sunglasses here may not have actually been part of the disguise. It may have been actually to protect the identity of the man in the photos from other spies or viewers of the photos.

    This seems pretty clear once you get to the last photo, where he isn’t wearing glasses but his face is blurred out.

    Wait…. except…. why is his face blurred out using modern digital techniques? Did the current German government censor these photos so that even today you couldn’t discover that this person was a member of the Stazi?

  5. The point of camouflage is to blend in with the prevailing conditions. We’re talking about Soviet Europe in the ’80s. It’s not supposed to look normal to hipsters a culture and a quarter century away. It would have been a total failure if it had. My wife was an exchange student in a Soviet-bordering nation in that time period, and got to visit Russia. I’ve seen the snapshots. Disguise 6? Genius, at least for that time & place.

    1. The point of camouflage is to blend in with the prevailing conditions. We’re talking about Soviet Europe in the ’80s.

      Yeah, but the dude in that photo was assigned to infiltrate a middle-school swim team.

  6. You are seeing the hat and coat, not the person wearing them. That’s the point. He’s making it difficult for people to remember what he looks like. So that when when he shoots a political dissident in the middle of a crowded street, the witnesses will only remember the tacky clothing.

    The guys who whacked Paul Castellano in front of Sparks Steakhouse used this exact technique, wearing cassock fur hats and trench-coats.

  7. Yeah, there’s disguise (like a plainclothes officer in jeans) and then there’s disguise (like a riot cop wearing a baclava.) This seems to be more of the latter.

  8. As a former East German army officer, I noticed that a bunch of things in the second disguise (East German army uniform) are wrong.
    Which leads me to believe those pictures are a spoof.

  9. O.M.G. #3 is none other than Stuart Smalley.

    “I’m going to do a terrific job today! And I’m gonna spy people!
    Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggonit, if people don’t like me, I’ll shoot them in the face.”

  10. Every minute you don’t tell us why you are here, I cut off a finger. Mine or yours? Yours. Damn! 

  11.   As hilarious as candid East German secret police snap shots are and always will be, if you read books like Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes you get the impression that the stasi, NKVD, etc actually had their duckies pointing in the proper direction.  While our spooks may have looked liked Robert Redford, we usually got fed our intel from some second floor office with a nice view over Red Square.  Just saying, and how many muskrats has the fall of Soviet Communism saved??  Fur is murder, comrade.  Sheeesh.

  12. The article says that the artist was allowed to “reproduce” the photos.

    As written, it could be taken that the artist recreated and rephotographed the scenes, and then hung them alongside a body of other genuine pictures from the time.

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