An East German Glossary

A dictionary of German (and a few Russian) terms you might meet in my books set in the GDR. The Reim Series is covered, and I’m working through my East Berlin Series to add more entries. If you think I’ve missed anything, please drop me a line.


NB: entries in the glossary may be sorted by the German or English term, depending on how that word or phrase is usually presented in the books.

Stasi departments and units

Abteilung – Department. The Hauptabteilungen (HA—main departments) were based in Berlin (most at Berlin Centre in Lichtenberg), responsible for national co-ordination and strategy in their areas of responsibility.
The Abteilungen were sub-departments of the HAs, either based in Berlin, (e.g. Abt. M, Abt. 26) or the equivalent departments in the District Administrations and County Offices. Most local departments kept the number of the Main Department they belonged to (e.g. Abt. II represented HA II), the main exception being Abt. XV, the local level of the HV A.
Main Departments were further divided into Sections.
Abteilung XIV – security and administration of the MfS remand prisons (UHA) in Hohenschönhausen (UHA I), Lichtenberg (UHA II) and each of the 15 District Administrations.
Abteilung XV – District and local level departments reporting to the HV A.
Abteilung M – Department M, responsible for postal surveillance.
Abteilung 26 – Department 26, responsible for audio and visual surveillance (including telecommunications).
Bezirksverwaltung des MfS, BV – District Administration. Each of the 15 administrative districts in the GDR had a MfS Admin­istration, which co-ordinated operations in that area. The next administrative level down, the counties (Kreise), had offices in each county town (Kreisdienststelle, KD).
County Office see Bezirksverwaltung.
Department see Abteilung.
District Administration see Bezirksverwaltung.
HA, Hauptabteilung – see Abteilung, or the specific Main Departments below.
HA I – Main Department I, security of the NVA.
HA II – Main Department II, counter-intelligence.
HA III – Main Department III, signals intelligence, monitoring of electronic (radio) and telephone networks.
HA VI – Main Department VI, passport control, tourism, transit traffic, where Reim was posted until autumn 1983.
HA IX – Main Department IX, investigation, interrogation and prosecution of suspects.
HA XVIII – Main Department XVIII, industry, commerce, customs and related ministries.
HA XX – Main Department XX, state organs and institutions, culture, church, underground groups; security of military communications infrastructure.
HA PS, Personenschutz – Main Department Personal Protection, close protection of individuals.
HV A, Hauptverwaltung A – Main Administration A, foreign intelligence. Represented at district and county levels by Department XV.
Kreisdienststelle, KD – see Bezirksverwaltung.
Main Department see Abteilung.
Operativ Technischer Sektor, Operational Technical Sector, OTS – technical support.
PKE, Paß- und Kontrolleinheit – Pass and Control Unit at border crossings, part of HA VI but wearing border guards uniforms.
Verwaltung 2000, Büro 2000, Administration 2000 – name used for HA I within the NVA.
ZAIG, Zentrale Auswertungs- und Informationsgruppe – Central Evaluation and Information Group, general staff unit with wide-ranging responsibilities, notably archiving, general reporting and, in Reim’s section (ZAIG/II), control and measurement of professional standards.

Military, Stasi and Police Ranks

Feldwebel – sergeant, staff sergeant.
Gefreiter – corporal.
General Major – major general.
Hauptmann
– captain.
Hauptwachtmeister – police sergeant.
Kriminaloberkommisar – West German rank, senior inspector in criminal investigation. Equivalent to first lieutenant.
Kriminaloberrat – West German rank, chief superintendent in criminal investigation. Equivalent to lieutenant colonel.
Leutnant – lieutenant.
Major – major.
Oberfeldwebel – rank above Feldwebel, sergeant first-class.
Oberleutnant – first lieutenant.
Oberst – colonel.
Oberstleutnant – lieutenant colonel
Polizeidirektor – West German police rank, equivalent to colonel.
Polizeirat – West German police rank, equivalent to major.
Soldat – soldier, private.
Stabsfeldwebel – master sergeant, warrant officer.
Starshina – senior sergeant in the Soviet Army.
Unteroffizier, Uffzi – the lowest rank of the non-commissioned officers (equivalent to corporal / sergeant), also generally used to cover all NCO ranks.
Unterleutnant – second lieutenant.
Wachtmeister – police constable (corporal).

GDR/German/other terms

Aktuelle Kamera – main GDR news programme on television.
Alex – Alexanderplatz, a central square in East Berlin.
Apfelschorle – apple juice mixed with sparkling water.
AUBIAUtofahrer BIer, alcohol-free beer.
Ausweis – identity document. Personalausweis was the civilian identity document, Dienstausweis, service identity papers (eg for work or in the armed organs, including the military Wehrdienstausweis). These Ausweise were little booklets, most with a cardboard and/or plasticised cover.
ABV, Abschnittsbevollmächtigter – beat policeman with responsibility for a particular neighbourhood or area.

Cover of a GDR Personalausweis
Cover of a GDR Personalausweis, CC-BY-SA by Heiko Bunbury

B

Basic Law, Grundgesetz – West German constitution.
Bärenvotze, Bärenfotze, Bävo – (vulgar) slang for the synthetic fleece shapka hat.
Bautzen – town best known for its mustard and its prison, STVE Bautzen I, known as the Gelbe Elend, the yellow misery.
Bereitschaftspolizei der Volkspolizei / Volkspolizei-Bereitschaften, VPB – barracked police troops, used whenever large numbers of police were required, e.g. public order situations or large-scale searches.
Berlin Centre – MfS headquarters in Lichtenberg, Berlin. Also known as Stasi Zentrale, Ruschestraße and Normannenstraße.
Betriebsschutz – Works Security officers, wearing police uniforms with a Betriebsschutz arm patch.

Betriebsschutz arm patch
Betriebsschutz arm patch, photograph CC-BY-SA by Dave Conner

Betriebsparteiorganisation, BPO – Works Party Organisation, the SED party group in workplaces.
Bezirk – the GDR was administratively divided into 15 Bezirke (districts), each of which was further divided into Kreise, which I’ve translated as counties (NB some authors and historians translate Bezirk as county and Kreis as district).
Bino – seasoning sauce, similar to Maggi sauce.
BGS, Bundesgrenzschutz – West German border patrol.
BKA, Bundeskriminalamt, Federal Crime Agency – West German investigative police agency, answering to the Ministry of the Interior.
BKK, KoKo, Bereich Kommerzielle Koordinierung, Commercial Co-ordination Division – responsible for procuring hard currency. Activities included weapons exports, import of hazardous waste, running holding firms and shell compaines in the West as well as Intershops and Interhotels in the GDR, negotiating the sale of political prioners.
BMK, Bau- und Montagekombinat Kohle und Energie – Combine Building and Construction Coal and Energy, responsible for building and maintenance of power plants and associated industries.
BND, Bundesnachrichtendienst – West German foreign intelligence service.
Bockwurst – type of sausage, usually served with a bread roll and mustard.
Bonze – (plural: Bonzen) bigwig, (mil.) brass, party leader.
Border Scout, Grenzaufklärer – members of the GDR Border Troops authorised to enter and patrol forward territory (the area between the final line of border defences and the actual border to West Germany / West Berlin).
Botanik – greenery, leafy suburbs. Berlin dialect.
Brigade – work team.
BRIXMIS – British Commanders’-in-Chief Mission to the Soviet Forces in Germany, the UK MLM.
BSR, Berliner Stadtreinigungsbetriebe – West Berlin municipal waste company.
BT11 – Border watchtower, with an octagonal observation deck, generally 11 metres high.
Bundesbahn, Deutsche Bundesbahn, DB – West German railways.
Bundespost, Deutsche Bundespost, BP – West German postal service.
Bundeswehr – West German armed forces.
BVG, Berliner Verkehrsgesellschaft – West Berlin Transport

C

Caterpillar carriers, Raupenträger – senior officers (major and above), on account of the braided shoulder boards.
Centrum
– department stores run by the HO.
Cheka – originally the Bolshevik secret police agency set up by Felix Dzerzhinski in 1917 in the Soviet Union. The secret police agencies in socialist states, and particularly the Stasi, drew on the traditions of the Cheka, seeing themselves as Chekists.
Chekist – member of the Cheka.
Clubhouse – Reim’s term for the HA VI headquarters in Treptow.
Clapperboard – Reim’s term for the MfS ID document.
Comecon, RGW – (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, Rat für gegenseitige Wirtschaftshilfe) Trade organisation in the Eastern Bloc, under the co-ordination of the Soviet Union.
Comrade, Genosse – member of the Socialist Unity Party (Communist party of the GDR), member of the army and other armed organs of the GDR.
Currywurst – sausage in a sauce of ketchup with curry spices.

D

Dash-no-dash, Einstrich-Keinstrich – NVA conifer needle camouflage pattern.
Datsche, Datschek – (plural: Datschen) weekend cottage, hut on an allotment or similar. From the Russian.
Dederon – GDR synthetic material, similar to nylon.
Defence Intelligence Staff – UK military intelligence, cf SIS.
DEIN STAR – substitution (encryption) table commonly used by BND agents operating in the GDR.
Deutrans – GDR haulier, mainly used for international runs.
Deutsch-Sowjetische Freundschaft, DSF – Society for German-Soviet Friendship.

Pin of the DSF
DSF pin, photograph CC-BY-SA by Cherubino

Deutsches Eck – lit. German Corner, headland at the confluence of the rivers Rhine and Moselle in Koblenz, West Germany.
District see Bezirk.
Diversant – (plural: Diversanten) person engaged in Diversion.
Diversion, politisch-ideologische Diversion – anti-socialist influence or activity, whether in thought or action.
Doppelkorn – grain spirit, schnapps.
DT64 – youth radio station in the GDR.
Duden – standard orthographic dictionary.
Drushba – (Russian) friendship, often used as a toast.

E

Exquisit – expensive boutiques that sold limited edition, GDR produced fashion items not available in the usual shops.

F

F96 – Fernstraße 96. The Fernstraßen were the equivalent of the Bundesstraßen (the F96 is now the B96): trunk roads, highways.
FDJ, Freie Deutsche Jugend – Free German Youth, Communist Party youth movement.
Federal Republic of Germany; FRG, Bundesrepublik Deutschland, BRD – West Germany.
Feierabend – end of shift, knocking off time, home time.
Filinchen – type of crispbread.
Fischkopf, Fischkopp – fish-head, derogative term for a resident of the coast.
The Four Powers – France, UK, US and USSR.
Friends, also brothers, Waffenbrüder, Brothers in Arms – the Soviets.
Freiherr – baron.

G

GDR, German Democratic Republic; Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR – East Germany.
Goldbrand – schnapps derived from brandy (32% ABV).
Grenade, Granat – (mil) jargon for 0,7l bottle of spirits.
GZA, Grenzzollamt – border customs office.
Groschen – ten Pfennigs.
Gründerzeit – in architectural terms, the period between 1871 and the First World War.
Grüne Minna – police wagon for transporting prisoners.
Grützwurst – type of black sausage.
GST, Gesellschaft für Sport und Technik – Society for Sports and Technology, providing field activities and pre-military training for young people.
GÜST, Grenzübergangsstelle – border crossing point.

H

Hausbuch – housebook, each residential block kept a Hausbuch in which residents’ and visitors’ details were entered—Westerners on arrival, visitors from within the GDR after three days. The Hausbuch was regularly checked by the ABV, beat policeman.
Haus des Reisens – central travel agency of the GDR, on Alexanderplatz. A police desk provided registration services for Western tourists to save them the trip to the local police station.
Havarie – technical breakdown, disaster, write-off.
Herein! – come in! Enter!
Hinterland Wall, Hinterlandmauer – first line (when approached from the interior of the GDR) of border defences, usually a concrete slab wall or expanded metal mesh fencing.
HO, Handelsorganisation – one of the two main retail organisations. State-run.
Hohenschönhausen – borough in Berlin, location of MfS central remand and interrogation prison UHA I.
Hopse – Berlin name for hopscotch.

I

IM, Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter – unofficial collaborator of the MfS.
IKM, Inoffizieller Kriminalpolizeilicher Mitarbeiter – unofficial collaborator of department K1 of the Volkspolizei.
Intershop – hard currency store selling Western products.

 Intershop advertising boards by the motorway in 1989
Intershop advertising boards by the motorway in 1989
CC-BY-SA by Aad van der Drift

Inter-zonal train, Interzonen Zug – passenger train crossing the inner-German border. Cf. transit train.
Interhotel – chain of international standard hotels in the GDR.

J

Jugendstil – German equivalent of Art Nouveau.
Jugendweihe – coming of age ceremony at age 14.

K

K1, Arbeitsgebiet I der Kriminalpolizei –Department K1 of the Volkspolizei. Kripo department responsible for complex and political cases, particularly those requiring the use of IKM informants. K1 enjoyed close connections to the MfS.
Kaderleiter – head of personnel.
Karl-Marx-Stadt – name for the town of Chemnitz, 1953-1990.
Kaschi – Kalashnikov KM-72 / AKM.
Katzendreck – lit. feline excrement, Reim uses Katzendreck to refer to low-value intelligence material.
Kaufhalle – self-service supermarket.
Kegeln – bowling.
Keine besondere Vorkommnisse – (mil.) nothing to report.
Kiez – neighbourhood, quarter, particularly in Berlin.
KIM, Kombinat Industrielle Mast – combine of feedlots / factory farms.
KKW, Kernkraftwerk – nuclear power station.
Kneipe – pub, bar.
Kombinat – vertically and horizontally integrated industrial group.
Kontakt Person, KP – Contact Person, an informant, particularly from the Operational Area, not usually registered as a regular IM informant.
Kohlroulade – cabbage wrapped around meat.
Komplexannahmestelle – shop accepting consumer goods for servicing. Repaired everything from tights to televisions, accepted bed linen for ironing, filled gas bottles and much more.
Komsomol – the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, youth organisation of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
konspirative Wohnung, KW – safe house/flat.
Konsum – one of the two main retail organisations, a consumer co-operative.
Krimi – detective novel.
Kripo, Kriminalpolizei, ‘K’ – Criminal Police, the criminal investigation agency for police forces in German speaking countries. The abbreviation K was unique to the GDR.
Kulturbund – cultural association, umbrella organisation for local groups.
Kulturpark Plänterwald – amusement park in East Berlin.
Kurhaus – assembly rooms in holiday resorts, often providing cultural entertainment.
KWO – Kombinat Kabelwerk Oberspree, combine of cable factories.

L

Leberwurst – sausage made from liver, usually spread on bread.
Lederol – imitation leather.
Leuna – small town near Leipzig, dominated by the chemical works VEB Leuna-Werke “Walter Ulbricht”.
LO – petrol truck, slightly smaller than the W50.
Ludmilla – Soviet built diesel locomotives hauling passenger and freight trains (Reichsbahn classification 130, 131, 132, 142).

Ludmilla locomotive
Ludmilla locomotive, CC-BY-SA 1986 by Roehrensee

M

Magdalena, see UHA
Markant – brand of writing implements.
Meschugge – not all there, crazy. From the Yiddish‎.
Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, MfS, Stasi – Ministry for State Security, secret police and intelligence agency.
Mitropa ran sleeper cars, station buffets and kiosks as well as motorway service stations.
MLM, Military Liaison Mission – military teams mutually accredited by the Four Powers to run monitoring and liaison missions in both Germanys.
Mocca-Fix – brand of coffee.
Morduntersuchungskommission, MUK – Murder Investigation Commission of the Volkspolizei.
MZ – VEB Motorradwerk Zschopau, popular motorbike.

N

Neues Deutschland – national newspaper in the GDR, central organ of the SED.
Neue Wache – the Memorial for Victims of Fascism and Militarism on Unter Den Linden in (East) Berlin.
Nordhäuser Doppelkorn – schnapps from Nordhausen distillery.
NVA, Nationale Volksarmme – National People’s Army, the GDR armed forces.

O

Offizier in besonderen Einsatz, OibE – undercover MfS officer placed in a strategic position in an outside institution, whether within the GDR or in the Operational Area.
Operationsgebiet, OG, Operational Area – field of operations, usually referring to West Berlin or West Germany.

P

Pentakta L100 – semi-portable microfiche reader, made by VEB Pentacon in Dresden.
Perspektivagent – sleeper agent, long-term prospect embedded in a target organisation.
Petschaft – aluminium seal with unique numbers and coding, provided to persons with security clearance for sealing doors to offices and safes, using wax and thread.
Pfeffi – square sweets, originally peppermints, but in later years other flavours were available.
Pille-palle – crazy, useless, something minor. Berlin dialect.
Pinscher – rookie, pipsqueak.
Pioneer, Jungpionier, Thälmann Pionier – Party organisation for children; Young Pioneers from age 6-10, Thälmann Pioneers from 10-14.
Platt – north German dialect, particularly from coastal areas.
Poliklinik – small hospital dealing with outpatients, cluster of doctors’ surgeries.
Politbüro – the Politbureau of the Central Committee of the SED, executive council of the GDR communist party.
Presto – brand of soluble powdered coffee.
Polizeiruf 110Polizeiruf 110 – popular detective series on GDR television.
Präsidium der VolkspolizeiVolkspolizei headquarters in East Berlin.

R

Rabatz – racket, row, din. Berlin dialect.
Red Army Faction, Rote Armee Fraktion – West German terrorist group, originally formed around Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and others.
Republikaner, Reps – West German far-right party.
Republikflucht – fleeing the republic, illegally crossing the state border.
Reichsbahn, Deutsche Reichsbahn – East German railways.
RFT, Rundfunk- und Fernmelde-Technik – GDR brand of radios, television and related equipment.
Robotron – GDR producer of electronics, software and office equipment.
Roth-Händle – West German brand of filterless cigarettes, renowned for their strength.
Rotkäppchen – domestically produced sparkling wine.
Ruckwärtige Dienste, RD – rear services in the NVA, responsible for supplies, provisions and accommodation.

S

Sandmännchen, Unser Sandmännchen – Our Sandman, children’s programme on East German television.
SB, Służba Bezpieczeństwa – Polish secret police.
Schlagermusik – German language ballads.
Schwalbe – moped made by Simson, who also produced inter alia, the S50 and S51 light motorbikes.
Schwedeneisbecher, Schwedenbecher – popular variety of ice cream sundae.
SED, Sozialistische Einheitspartei, the Party – GDR Communist party.
Selbstanbieter – a walk-up: member of a foreign security service offering services as an informant.
Selters – sparkling water.
SERB – Soviet External Relations Branch, responsible for liaising with the MLMs and maintaining their base of operations, Mission House, in Potsdam.
SERO – Sekundär-Rohstofferfassing. Recycling scheme in the GDR. Deposits and payment by weight were made on materials brought to SERO shops and stalls.
Shiguli – car known in Western markets as Lada, manufactured by Zhiguli.
Skat – card game.
Skim, abschöpfen – MfS term for covert interrogation of a source who does not realise they are being questioned.
SIS, Secret Intelligence Services – UK foreign intelligence, commonly called MI6.
Softeis – soft whip ice cream, soft serve ice cream.
Sprechtafel – radio code table. Used most often by Volkspolizei and border guards.
Sprelacart, Sprelakart – decorative laminate sheets, similar to Resopal and Formica.
Station der jungen Naturforscher und Techniker – Centre for Young Naturalists and Engineers, after-school centres encouraging interest in the sciences.st
Stoffhund – open-top Trabant jeep.
Strandkorb – wicker or wood covered seat, used on beaches.
Stullen – sandwiches.
STVE, Strafvollzugseinrichtung – prison.
Tacheles – straight talk. From the Yiddish‎.
Subbotnik – voluntary work at the weekend. From Russian, Subbotna, Saturday.

T

Taigatrommel – Soviet built M62 heavy diesel locomotive (Reichsbahn classification V200, later 120). Called the Taiga Drum on account of the loud exhausts.

Taigatrommel locomotive with Class 110 in background
Taigatrommel locomotive with V100/Class 110 in background. CC-BY-SA Deutsche Fotothek

Telnyashka – undershirt worn by Soviet military, usually with blue and white horizontal stripes.
Tote Oma – mashed and heated black sausage, often served with boiled potatoes and sauerkraut.
Tovarishch – (Russian) comrade.
Trabant – most widespread car in the GDR.
Transit train, Transitzug – train between West Germany and West Berlin, without passenger stops in the GDR (with the exception of Friedrichstraße). Cf. Inter-zonal train.
Transportpolizei, Trapo – East German transport police.

U

Unit IX, Diensteinheit IX – elite DVP anti-terrorist unit.
UHA, Untersuchungshaftanstalt – remand prison. UHA I des MfS was the Hohenschönhausen complex; UHA II, the smaller prison on Magdalenenstraße (known as Magdalena) next to Berlin Centre.

V

V100 – medium weight, general purpose diesel locomotive built in Hennigsdorf. Renumbered to Class 110.
Verfassungsschutz – West German domestic intelligence agency.
Volkspolizei, Deutsche Volkspolizei, DVP – GDR police force.
Volkssolidarität, VS – mass organisation organising care for elderly and vulnerable people.
VVS, vertrauliche Verschlußsache, Top Secret – one of the highest level classifications for secret documents.

WXY

Wamme, Wumme – gun.
West confirmed, Westbestätigt – entry in personnel files indicating that an individual could, in principle, be allowed to travel to the West. Other than political reliability, an important factor was usually an established family (spouse and children) who would remain in the GDR during any Western travels.
Westschlesischer Bund, WSB – West Silesian League. Fictional party of secessionists in the East German Series. West Silesia is made up those parts of Silesia west of the Neisse River, now part of Saxony (cf. map from Stealing The Future).
White mouse, weiße Maus – traffic cop, so called because of their white uniform jacket and cap.
W50 – medium sized diesel truck, ubiquitous in the GDR.

Various models of the IFA W50 truck
Various models of the IFA W50 truck CC-BY-SA by Digitoxin

Warnowwerft, Warnow shipyard – One of the shipyards in Rostock, based near the mouth of the river Warnow.
Wofasept – disinfectant, used in practically every public building and train in the GDR.
Weiße Flotte – passenger ships plying tourist routes.
Wir sind das Volk! – We Are The People, slogan of the 1989 upheavals, chanted by crowds at protests.
Wir sind ein Volk! – We Are One People. A chant originally intended to persuade police and security forces to join them, the slogan was soon co-opted by those pushing for reunification of the two Germanys.

Z

Zecke – tick, parasite. Derogatory term for left-wingers.
Zitty – West Berlin listings magazine.
Zone – pejorative term for the GDR, derived from Soviet Occupation Zone.
Zurückbleiben! – Stay back! Command given by conductor or platform personnel before the train doors close (U-Bahn and S-Bahn in Berlin).
Zückli – synthetic sweetener.