I watched ‘The Lives of Others’ last night, which is about Stasi spying in East Germany in the 1980s – so decided to bring this museum review over from my Berlin blog that I wrote last summer…
It’s difficult to spend too long in Berlin without coming across something about the Stasi. The state sponsored spying machine reached all parts of society and resulted in an unimaginable amount of documentation produced on individuals within East Germany – so much so that floors of buildings buckled under the weight of it all. Part of the old Stasi HQ (above) in East Berlin is now a museum, which includes the offices where Erich Mielke, Head of the Stasi worked, exhibitions on life in Communist Germany and information and artefacts about Stasi spying.
It’s probably the spying memorabilia that is most striking, such as a button-hole camera complete with button, fabric with suspects’ scent on in case tracker dogs were ever needed to hunt them down (above), and all kinds of other devices hidden in pens, radios, rubbish bins and ties to name just a few.
The building you stand in is the building that originated the fear and very real dangers that existed as part of everyday life in East Germany, and knowing some context before you go will help you understand that. I had been on various walking tours around the city and spoken to people before I went, which I think helped a lot to add context. It is also worth noting that this was normal life to so many and that most young people were part of the official communist youth movement, the Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ) and it was part of everyday life. The exhibits on this are interesting too, for instance the FDJ uniforms, workbooks and songs.
Parts of the archive that were not destroyed by Stasi workers as the wall came down are now open and anyone who thinks material is written about them can access this. I spoke to a few people while I was in Berlin, albeit some from the old West Berlin, and others too young to really have been affected, but there were clear concerns over whether having access to this material was a positive thing or whether it caused more lasting problems for the individuals and families concerned. They suggested it should be left alone and people should look to the future. But my guess is you’d feel different if you knew there was information written down about you and you weren’t allowed to get hold of it.
Don’t confuse this museum with a small exhibit at Checkpoint Charlie – this museum is quite far East and off the general tourist trail, although still within easy reach of the city centre.
Stasi Museum, Ruschestraße 103, 10365 Berlin