New technology could piece together shredded Stasi documents in five years
Technology developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for design technology and Lufthansa Systems Group could reconstruct all of the files destroyed by East Germany's secret police in the weeks and months following the fall of the Berlin Wall. The fragments of documents, destroyed by hand after shredding machines broke down, fill some 16,000 sacks. For the past eight years, 15 workers have been sticking paper shreds together with sticky tape and tweezers. Around 250 sacks have been reconstructed since 1995 at a rate of around ten documents per day. However, experts estimate that it would take another 400 years to complete the task in this way. If government funding is approved, Lufthansa systems will first scan the fragments. 'We scan both sides of the paper fragments, and in colour,' says Gunter Küchler, Director of Lufthansa Systems. 'What is different to conventional documents is that the Stasi [secret police] fragments are very small and have no right-angled edges.' The Fraunhofer Institute will then be responsible for piecing the scraps back together using new recognition software. The software is used in two phases. It first sorts similar fragments into groups using factors such as colour, texture, lines on the paper, type face and font. Following the sorting process, the edge pieces are put together. A computer selects possible neighbouring pieces according to contours and details on the paper, and when all the parameters agree, the next piece of the puzzle has been found. Once in their original form, the documents are expected to provide information on 174,000 unofficial employees of the Stasi and an estimated six million people on whom they spied during the 1970s and 1980s.