BERLIN – It appears that even the dreaded East German Stasi got caught up in Michael Jackson mania in the late 1980s.
According to a document obtained by the AP last week from the archives of the former secret police, the Stasi reported on June 18, 1988 that it monitored Jackson as he visited the Allied Checkpoint Charlie in the centre of divided Berlin. It was the day before he was to give a concert in West Berlin and Stasi officials fretted he could cause security concerns in the East.
But it turns out the Communist secret police weren’t photographing the pop star at all – they were taking pictures of a double who was part of an elaborate German television stunt to gauge Jackson hysteria in Berlin, according to information from Sat.1 television Thursday.
Sat.1 was going over the Stasi surveillance pictures published by the AP and German newspapers last week, when a cameraman pointed out that he was in the picture, said spokeswoman Diana Schardt.
He recounted the story of the Jackson double stunt to his colleagues, and they were able to pull the original footage and confirm it, she said.
“Back in 1988 a Sat.1-team took a Jacko stand-in on a tour through Berlin to get an idea what it’s like to have a superstar in town,” Schardt said in an email. “My colleagues told me that the Berliners really went crazy when they saw him.”
The Stasi routinely snooped on dissidents and ordinary East German citizens, and also placed thousands of agents to spy on top Western officials and others.
In its report on Jackson – actually the double – it noted that at 2:52 p.m., three cars pulled up to the official checkpoint building, with “many unknown male and female people.”
“Among the people was the USA rock singer Michael Jackson,” the report said. “Accompanying him at all times was a female person, about 25 years old, 165 centimetres tall, with a slim build.” It gave no other indication of the woman’s identity.
It said there were also two film teams with Jackson – noting that one camera said “Sat.1” – who began filming him at 2:55 p.m. At 2:58 p.m., Jackson and most of the others got back in their cars and left, the Stasi said.
“The cross-border traffic was not hindered,” the report noted dryly.
Fake Jackson aside, other Stasi documents showed the agency was worried that his concert could cause security problems for East Berlin.
According to one document – an internal Stasi communique from May 4, 1988 – the secret police believed that East German youth were “calculating on a confrontation with the police” in conjunction with the Jackson concert.
The document said further that the Stasi had obtained “information” that East German young people were going to attempt to watch or hear the June 19 concert over the wall, either from behind the Brandenburg Gate area or the nearby Charite hospital.
In the end, East German authorities staged a crackdown on Jackson fans during the concert.