Month: November 2019

Yogi’s Verdict: Stasi Museum

Thirty years have passed since the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989. Germany, which had been divided into the communist East and the capitalist West peacefully reunited a year later.

But the scars of Cold War division are not easy to remove, even after three decades. And there is no more potent symbol of the lingering effects than the Stasi Museum. Located in Berlin’s Lichtenberg district, the vast complex of buildings used to be the headquarter’s of East Germany’s feared Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit), or Stasi.

From 1950 until its dissolution in 1990, the Stasi was one of the world’s most effective and repressive secret police forces. Almost 1 in every 63 East Germans collaborated with the Stasi in some form, with the agency having over 90,000 employees and 170,000 informants by the time the Berlin Wall fell.

After East Germany’s collapse, the Stasi Records Agency took possession of the Stasi’s millions of records, estimated at around 111km in total length. Half are kept at the former Berlin complex with the rest housed in various Stasi museums across the former East.

I went for an English guided tour in the afternoon, taking the U-Bahn to Magdalenenstraße station which is right next to the museum entrance.

Magdalenenstraße Station

I walked up the driveway to the main building, known as House 1, passing the huge plattenbau prefabricated towers that made up the bulk of the complex.

Forbidding towers loom over you.

The guided tour began in the lobby, which was adorned with East German and Communist flags, statues of Karl Marx and the Soviet secret police pioneer Felix Dzerzhinsky.

Karl Marx
Felix Dzerzhinsky

In the centre of the lobby is a large model of the Stasi Complex made in 1982. The guide explained that there were plans to expand it further by demolishing neighbouring residential areas but these were of course disrupted by the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A 1982 model of the Stasi Complex

The guide proceeded to take us through various exhibits showcasing the Stasi’s rise to prominence under Soviet control, the vast surveillance network it built, the careful methods it used to recruit trustworthy officers as well as the last days of a once-feared apparatus.

A prisoner transport van with individual sealed compartments and disguised as an ordinary workman’s vehicle.
A map of Stasi facilities in East Berlin
A medal awarded to an officer who successfully prevented an escape attempt
A Stasi listening device concealed within a door that was only discovered in the 1990s

I felt that the most poignant exhibit was one which carefully reconstructed how the Stasi worked to discredit a particular dissident using psychological methods:

“First, they ensured he lost his job and was unable to find another. Rumours were spread that he had contracted an STD by being unfaithful. An agent was dispatched to seduce the wife and cause further marital trouble. The dissident was kept under constant and obvious surveillance to induce paranoia. A copy of the evaluation report stated that the man’s life had fallen apart after just 6 months, rendering him useless within the dissident movement.”

The next floor is known as the Minister’s Level. Erich Mielke, who ran the Stasi from 1957 to 1989, had his offices here. The rooms are preserved as they were in the final days, giving an unsettling glimpse into the heart of this sinister organisation.

The Minister’s secretary had her office here. A senior agent herself, she was able to reach high level East German officials quickly via her desk phone.
The conference room where Stasi chiefs decided the fates of prisoners and oversaw its vast surveillance network
Erich Mielke’s office

The highlight of this floor was the minister’s personal office itself. Although largely empty, one can still imagine the intrigue that permeates this space, with the austere furniture standing as silent sentinels to all they had witnessed.

Final glimpse. In the foreground is an exhibition on how the Berlin Wall fell.

The Stasi Museum is smaller than expected, occupying House 1 within the entire complex, and some exhibits are only in German. But the stories told within are very compelling, and display the worst of humanity in East Germany’s repressive society.

Yogi’s Verdict: ★★★★☆

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My weekly newsletter returns!

With 56 issues published so far, I took a break in late September for both personal and professional reasons. While I greatly enjoyed curating each week’s issue, it also took a tremendous amount of preparation even as my schedule became busier. I also undertook a comprehensive review of my future plans and commitments.

After this six-week hiatus, I’m pleased to announce that my weekly newsletter returns on November 4 as The Historyogi Post!

All existing subscribers of the Red Dot Digest are automatically subscribed to the Historyogi Post. New subscribers can sign up here.

Thanks to all my readers who gave thoughtful comments for the reader’s survey! Based on the feedback, I’ve streamlined the sections from five to four, and will aim to include more non-Western sources. The Historyogi Post retains the best of the Red Dot Digest while offering content with a greater focus on social, cultural, political and historical themes beyond the West.

I will also be introducing a new monthly column, The Yogi’s Verdict, which will review a book, journal article or exhibition related to Singapore or global history. My first column will be out on November 11 on my revamped website: historyogi.org.

All past issues of the Red Dot Digest remain accessible here, along with upcoming issues of the Historyogi Post.