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