Germany's disgraced former chancellor, Helmut Kohl, yesterday won the right to block all access to the files kept on him by East Germany's communist spymasters.
In December 1991 the Stasi Records Act was put into law and subsequently has been amended seven times.
The Berlin archives encompass a total of around 111 kilometres (about 68 miles) of documents and 1.4 million photos. Based on the provisions defined in the Stasi Records Act (StUG), the BStU allows access to these files to private citizens, institutions and the public.
The ruling, by an appeal court in Berlin, is expected to have a profound effect on research into Germany's cold war history, as it also puts out of bounds records kept on a vast range of people, from former communist party bosses to headteachers.
There were even fears that already-published books and articles which draw on such files might have to be withdrawn.
The judges' decision means that files kept on prominent public figures and officials cannot, in future, be released without the subject's explicit consent.
Journalists and historians had applied to see Mr Kohl's records, and there was speculation that their researches could have shed light on a party financing scandal that left the former chancellor's reputation in tatters three years ago.
The files of hundreds of other officeholders - mostly East Germans - have already been released under a law passed when the former chancellor was himself in power.
But the authority that now looks after the documents left by East Germany's intelligence and security agency, the Stasi, does not allow researchers to see private information.
In the case of Mr Kohl, it was proposing to release only about 2,500 of the 7,000 pages in his dossier. The former chancellor nevertheless sought an injunction on the grounds that any publication would damage his "human dignity".
Although a lot of the material is understood to consist of transcripts of intercepted telephone conversations, Mr Kohl's lawyers also argued that the Stasi's documents were bound to contain false and falsified information. Last July they won an order from a lower court, but the keepers of the files appealed and secured yesterday's review.
For a decade, the relevant act had been interpreted as offering protection only to leading dissidents and other indisputable victims of communist state oppression. Thus the files of the former West German chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt - along with many prominent easterners - had already been released.
The judges' decision that Mr Kohl fell within the protection of the act will enrage many in the formerly communist parts of Germany, not least because several leading easterners saw their careers ruined when sometimes questionable information was released under guidelines that Mr Kohl's own governments never contested.
But the ruling, which cannot be appealed, will delight anyone who held a senior post in either the West or East - judges, soldiers, officials, and even headteachers.
Archivists have so far processed some 5m requests for access to the agency's records. Only 1.7m of these have come from easterners asking to see their own files.
By the beginning of 2007 the BStU had responded to over six million "Stasi file" record requests.
However from November 2006 allegations started to circulate, most notably in the German news paper Die Welt that the BStU, tasked to guard the Stasi files, had been infiltrated by a number of former Stasi officers and informers. In response the German government commissioned an investigation.
BERLIN (Reuters) - Hoping to capitalise on a wave of nostalgia for Communist East Germany, a Berlin company is planning to build a theme park that revives life behind the Iron Curtain in the country that disappeared nearly 13 years ago.
Massine Productions GmbH hopes to recreate a 10,000-square metre (107,600 sq ft) replica of East Germany, complete with surly border guards, rigorous customs inspections, authentic East German mark notes, and restaurants with regulation bland East German food.
"The aim isn't to make big joke out of East Germany," said Susanne Reich, a spokeswoman for the company which is expected to invest several million euros on the project, slated for the southeastern Berlin district of Koepenick.
"It was an important part of Germany's history and the period should be recreated as accurately as possible."
Nostalgia for East Germany has lingered ever since reunification in 1990. Known as "Ostalgie", a play on the German words for east and nostalgia, the spirit has given rise to scores of "GDR parties", books, songs and popular films.
A German film "Good Bye, Lenin", in which a man recreates East Germany in a 79-square-metre (850-sq-ft) flat to protect his ailing mother from the shock of reunification after she comes out of a coma, has surged to the top of the German film charts and more than a million people have been to see it.
Even though East Germany lasted just four decades, Reich insists that the project has the potential to go the distance:
"We've spoken to a number of tourist agencies in Europe and the United States, and there's been plenty of interest."