"Sometimes, I got so engrossed that I forgot to go home," Elke Kinzel told Pacific Standard back in August. "How could one not get engrossed in such kind of work? It is like you have been given fragments of people's lives and are asked to tell their story in great detail." Hopefully Kinzel, who started reassembling shredded records from the East German secret police 25 years ago, still finds the work rewarding because the Guardian now reports the scanning hardware the German government paid $9.6 million for in 2013 to automate the reassembly of shredded Stasi files is no longer up to the task. “We currently don’t have a scanner that we can work with,” a spokesperson for the Stasi Records Agency confirmed this week.
Since the reunification of Germany in 1990, employees of the Stasi Records Agency have pieced together more than 1.5 million pages of destroyed files, allowing victims of the secret police to access their records. Since being brought on in 2013, the ePuzzler has pieced together about 91,000 pages. But the agency says the remaining file scraps are too small—down to the size of a fingernail—for the scanner to work properly. It also has difficulty with pages that were handwritten and folded before being torn. Now the job of reassembling the remaining files either must wait on new technology or rely on the hands and eyes of people like Kinzel. (A teen wrote to his favorite radio program. Then the Stasi came calling.)