With the help of a new machine, a German computer engineer has pieced together 600 million scraps of shredded documents from the former East German Ministry for Security. Bertram Nickolay has been working to unlock the secrets of the Stasi files for the last 15 years, but it took a technological breakthrough to enable him to reconstruct one of the most painful chapters of German history. “As the East German state crumbled in 1989, Erich Mielke, the chief of the secret police, better known as the Stasi, ordered his minions to destroy the most incriminating files, the hard evidence of a state founded on fear, spying, blackmail and betrayal. The task of destruction was monumental. The Stasi employed 91,000 agents as well as thousands more informants to spy on friends, neighbours, fellow workers and family members — a brutal bureaucracy that produced a staggering quantity of paperwork. The Stasi’s flimsy electric shredders (Reisswolfs: literally rip-wolves) collapsed under the strain, so the secret police continued the job by hand, working around the clock for three months. An astonishing 45 million documents were ripped up, and stuffed into rubbish bags.”