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German film crew documents language learning history
MONTEREY, Calif. – A German film crew visited the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center June 14 to videotape a German class in action and to interview the DLIFLC historians about what life was like for students in the 1950s.

Imbissfilm, based in Munich, Germany, is working on a documentary about the late Robert Morton Asch, a 1957 graduate of the basic German course from the Army Language School, today’s DLIFLC.

The project was conceived by Asch’s son Eric to discover the truth about his father’s career working for the U.S. government and then later directing an exchange program for Tufts University in Germany as a civilian. Eric is trying to uncover layers of mystery and find out why the former East German Secret Service Agency, known as the Stasi, maintained files on his father.

“I liked the story of an American living in West Germany and being watched by the Stasi - it is a very unusual angle to the history of the divided Germany,” said Martin Rehbock, producer of the documentary “Codename: Pirate.”

Since the project began, following leads to help bring this story to light, Eric has visited places where his father lived and worked in the U.S. and Germany and interviewed dozens of people, including ALS alumni, former colleagues, and teachers.

“I hope we can tell the German people a very unusual story about a very unusual man,” said Rehbock, talking about his motivation to make the documentary. “(I think the story) will help us look at our country in a different way,” adding that the perception of a divided Germany and its history differs greatly between Germans and Americans.

During his Army enlistment, Robert Asch worked as a German linguist for the Army Security Agency, the Army’s signal intelligence branch, and was stationed in Frankfurt and Berlin at a time when Americans were not allowed to travel to East Berlin. In 1972, Asch left his full-time military job to take a civilian position as director for Tufts-in-Tubingen, where he was responsible for American exchange students who traveled overseas to study German language and culture in Tubingen, outside of Stuttgart. It was during this time that the Stasi apparently started their files on Asch.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Asch took groups of these Tufts students through East Germany, and since their studies included writing travel journals the Stasi took notice, and started researching Asch’s background, resulting in at least one 3,000-page file.

Luckily for Asch and his family, the Stasi never discovered Asch had worked for Army intelligence prior to his work at Tufts, and despite multiple thick files in their archives, and unlike many other suspected spies, Asch was never arrested or jailed. The Stasi did, however, consider trying to make Asch a double-agent, which Eric discovered when reading 700 pages of his father’s file.

Asch knew of the Stasi file on him and shared the information with Eric before he passed away in 2001. In 2002, Asch’s friends and family established the Robert Asch Prize at Tufts to be “awarded to juniors or seniors who will use the fund for research, projects or internship in a German speaking country.”

In addition to touring the Presidio to get footage of the Berlin Wall memorial and the Russian tank by the Price Fitness Center track, Eric interviewed two DLIFLC historians and the provost, to get a feel for what DLI is all about and how it has changed since his father was a student.

Along with uncovering Robert Asch’s mysterious past, Rehbock believes this story is a very touching and personal one as well. Rehbock said he hopes to “make them [the viewers] feel that nothing can get in the way of the love between father and son.”

Imbissfilm expects to release the documentary, “Deckname Pirat” or “Codename: Pirate,” in late spring or summer 2013.

Story and photo by

Story by: Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Doucette, Strategic Communications
Photo by: Devon Swanson, Strategic Communications

Photo 1: A German film crew, Imbissfilm, interviews Natela Cutter and Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Doucette of the Defense Language Institute in front of slabs from the Berlin Wall June 14, 2012, for their upcoming documentary on Robert Asch, 'Deckname Pirat.' (U.S. Army photo by Devon Swanson)

Photo 2: Robert Asch, second from right, attending a party with friends December 26, 1958 on the Havel River in north-Eastern Germany. (Courtesy photo)
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