Steve Rowell

Background Listening Post:
Inverting Stasi Surveillance Infrastructure

While living in Berlin in 2009 during the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I visited a small building in a barley field on a research trip to the countryside. What I found inside opened the perceptual door on a secret history of East Germany’s shadowy past. Background Listening Post focuses on an abandoned Stasi telephone listening post and the surrounding landscape of an overlooked hinterland in Saxony-Anhalt Germany. The Stasi, the repressive intelligence and secret police agency of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) surveilled, infiltrated, and controlled the daily lives of German citizens not only in cities like East Berlin but across the entirety of the eastern half of a divided nation. This project was was originally shown at the 2010 Werkleitz festival Fear Has Big Eyes (Angst hat große Augen) Festival, curated by the art / urban research collective KUNSTrePUBLIK. It is comprised of photographic prints, German and English versions of a map, and an interactive audio player featuring select recordings from the field.

Focusing on a former Stasi telephone intercept station (the “listening post”,) this project stems from the abandoned-in-place spy equipment within, conceptually following this phantom infrastructure outward, back into the fringe landscapes of Saxony-Anhalt. This county – once the agricultural and industrial core of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) – lies south of Berlin, west of Leipzig, north of the Czech border, and east of the Harz mountains. Extending from this disused, remote station, I have mapped this hinterland, thereby constructing an index of photographs and field recordings of this territory of residual angst, investigating select sites that directly and indirectly relate to the spirit of this place. Some of these sites are documented and well known, others were discovered as acts of serendipity while in the field, their meaning and value only realized in context to the greater project. Others still are almost concealed places, barely hidden in plain sight.

The audio recordings of these sites can be accessed in the field via hardware installed at the listening post on the southwest edge of Görzig, a small village 15 kilometers north of Halle (Saale). Accompanying this installation is an illustrated field guide / map which features a selection of sites– extrapolated from the vestigial remnants of a once-thriving network of surveillance. By taking this guide / map into the field and visiting these sites in-person, the tourist becomes a participant and performs an act of superimposing the current with the past, forming a layered visual and aural survey him/herself of this revelatory terrain.

May - September 2010 (audio installation, indefinite) present: Werkleitz 2010 festival: Angst in Form, 2010, Halle an der Saale, Germany

Review: “Das Werkleitz-Festival in Halle empfiehlt Kunststücke gegen die Angst” 

November 2019: Goethe Pop Up KC, Kansas City, USA

A sample of recordings featured in the audio installation, now archived on Radio Aporee Maps:

radio aporee ::: maps - Leipzig-Halle Cargo Airport
radio aporee ::: maps - Südheide former Soviet military base
radio aporee ::: maps - Stasi Archive, Halle-Neustadt
radio aporee ::: maps - Rhyolite Mine
radio aporee ::: maps - Flooded Quarry
radio aporee ::: maps - Bismarck & Microwave Towers
radio aporee ::: maps - Schlosspark Ostrau
radio aporee ::: maps - Stumsdorf railroad crossing - passing trains
radio aporee ::: maps - Ostrau Stasi Alternate Command Center
radio aporee ::: maps - Glauzig Factory Ruin
radio aporee ::: maps - Western Saloon
radio aporee ::: maps - Abandoned Soviet MiG Bunkers
radio aporee ::: maps - Former coal mine wind farms and hunting blind