From Communist cadre to Coca-Cola rep: An East German story

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Frank Mader, former press attache of the embassy of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) in Washington, poses for a photo after an interview with the Associated Press in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. Germany marks 30 years since its reunification between communist East Germany and capitalist West Germany, (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

BERLIN – A few miles from the former Berlin Wall, Frank Mader reflects on a life divided between East and West, a tale of two halves that don't fit neatly together but which captures the twists and contradictions of Germany's journey 30 years since its reunification.

Mader, an energetic 65-year-old, was born in East Germany and grew up in the communist country's coal-mining heartland. Before finishing high school he began training as a machine operator — a model student in the self-styled “workers and farmers state."

When party officials spotted his talent for writing in the factory newspaper, Mader got a place in journalism school and then a job at ADN, East Germany's state-run news agency. It was an exclusive position that came with the rare privilege of foreign travel to Eastern bloc nations but also many potential pitfalls.

“Writing about certain issues was more or less taboo,” he told The Associated Press. “You had to rely on your gut feeling. The basic requirement was to be faithful to the state and the party.”

If Mader harbored doubts, he hid them well.

Files show that East Germany's military intelligence and the country' secret police, the Stasi, considered Mader trustworthy when he was appointed press attache at the embassy in Washington — an exciting prospect for a man in his early 30s who had never been to the West as an adult.

“The instructions were broad: on the one hand to collect information and send it home, one the other hand to look after journalists or groups from East Germany," Mader said. “And also to provide information about my home country to America. Positive information, of course.”

While Mader only described his responsibilities in America in general terms, Douglas Selvage, a historian at Berlin’s Humboldt University, says all East German diplomats would have been vetted by the Stasi and likely asked to inform on their co-workers at the embassy.