A truly thought-provoking spot, I was moved and intrigued by our visit. So why did this post sit half done? Berlin is beyond being "discovered" at this point, and almost everything I want to blog about has been done before, and better. (Check out Chasing Heartbeats beautiful coverage). But by that logic, why should we do anything that has been done before? Why'd I even come to Berlin (twice) if it had already been "done" by other expats? Therefore, post I shall.
Whew. Enough boring and obvious introspection and a little more about a place you should want to get to know better....
Genslerstr. 66 13055 Berlin, Germany
Tel. 030 986082-30
Hohenschönhausen used to not even be marked on maps - it was that secret. Today you can take guided tours around the eerie buildings. Still and quiet except for the various groups, it all comes to chilling life when tales of it's history are recited. It is the background to the confession scenes in the film The Lives of Others. The idea of it alone is terrifying. And yet there we stood, on a fairly sunny day, listening to a young American woman tell us about the atrocities that occurred here.
The place is now a museum and memorial located in Berlin's north-eastern Lichtenberg district. It was opened in 1994 on the site of the main prison of the former East German Communist Ministry of State Security, better known as the Stasi. Basically intact, Wikipedia reports:
"Unlike many other government and military institutions in East Germany, Hohenschönhausen prison was not stormed by demonstrators after the fall of the Berlin Wall, allowing prison authorities to destroy evidence of the prison's functions and history. Because of this, today's knowledge of the functioning of the prison comes mainly from eye-witness accounts and documents sourced from other East German institutions."
I took an absurd amount of photos of doors, not only because the derelict conditions created that "oh-so-trendy abandoned look", but because doors like these make you think about the terrifying things that once happened within.
|Rubber Room Hohenschönhausen|
An older area used by the soviets is known as the U-Boot (submarine). It is almost entirely underground and prisoners could choose whether they wanted a hot cell or a cold cell. Both were unpleasant. This wood bed is an exact replica and this small cell would house 12 prisoners at a time. People lost track of time, lost days....weeks....
The halls of the second building used by the Stasi was less barbarian but had just as terrifying of details.
In the cells,
Books weren't allowed.
Writing wasn't allowed.
Windows were covered.
Talking wasn't allowed.
Some people figured out ingenious systems of connecting with each other. They would use a towel to empty the water in the toilet and viola! A telephone of sorts. This could be foiled as all of the controls for the cell were on the outside. Lights, temp, and -yes- even the ability to flush the toilet.
As we exited, I was left wondering....
In a system which espouses that everyone is equal and reasonable, it is important to have logic and order. In theory, no one was punished without reason. They each had a crime. Maybe that is the scariest of all. They thought the means (torture) to an end (confessions) made it worthwhile.
These visits to Berlin's historical sites are never exactly a "fun day", but I've never been sorry I visited. I think it's all about balance. With all the good memories we are making now, it was inevitable there has to be some bad.
On a cheerier note, upcoming posts include:
- Getting Down with Nature just Outside Berlin - Canoeing in the Spreewald
- Back to Berlin on House Hunters International - Video & Behind the Scenes look
- Where to take Your Texan Nephew in Berlin