Tag: east germany

Berlin 2019 (Day 6-7)

Day 6

I departed London on the morning of Oct 14, travelling by the Eurostar to Brussels. I then took two ICE trains to Berlin, changing in Cologne. I reached Berlin that night and had a quick dinner before bed.

What I saw

Boarding the Eurostar at St Pancras. Didn’t have to get up too early as my hostel was opposite the station.
On board the German ICE train from Brussels to Cologne. It was very fast and quiet.
Speeding past the German countryside.
Cute doggo that shared the cabin during the ride to Berlin.
Finally arrived at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof station after nearly 12 hours.
Checked into the comfortable Circus Hostel which was in the Mitte district.

What I ate

I ate sandwiches on the trains. They were expensive but good quality.
Once in Berlin, I had a quick bite at Curry Mitte where I tried their currywurst. It was really good.

Day 7

I spent the bulk of this day on a walking tour of Berlin’s best cultural and historic spots.

What I saw

Waiting for my tram to Hackescher Markt to begin my walking tour
The Bridge over the Spree River to Museum Island. The Berlin Cathedral is in the background.
The Altes Museum (Old Museum).
The beautiful Berlin Cathedral
Babelplatz in front of Humboldt University’s Law building, where the Nazis conducted massive book burnings in the 1930s.
Gendarmenmarkt, a beautiful public square with the French and German churches, as well as the Berlin Concert Hall.
The location of Allied Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing that once existed between East and West Berlin. It’s a touristy mess these days.
The cobblestones that mark where the Berlin Wall once stood separating East and West.
One of the longest surviving stretches of the Berlin Wall.
The site of the Fuhrerbunker, where Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945 as the Soviets closed in on Berlin. It’s deliberately kept nondescript to prevent it from becoming a Neo Nazi shrine.
The Holocaust Memorial, consisting of concrete blocks of various sizes resembling gravestones.
The Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of Berlin.
After the walking tour ended, I dropped by the DDR Museum which showcased life in Communist East Germany. It was a brittle regime propped up by propaganda, surveillance and Soviet military force.
A model of how the Berlin Wall functioned. Plenty of people were shot dead trying to escape to the West from 1961-1989.

What I ate

Had cold meats, cheese and waffle plus orange juice for breakfast at the hostel.
By sheer coincidence, a Twitter friend from Singapore was also touring Berlin and happened to be staying just across the street from my hostel. So we met up for dinner.
We had Korean BBQ, which was excellent. It was amusing to see the other customers drinking Tiger Beer in Germany of all places.

Click HERE for Day Eight and Day Nine

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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