History - Cold War, Berlin
This private memorial to those killed trying to flee East Germany after the Berlin Wall went up is located in between the Brandenburg Tor and the Reichstag. The wooden cross bearing a name of Heinz Sokolowski and the date he died is one of the original crosses. The smaller white crosses also have the names and dates of those that were killed. Gunter Liftin was the first to die trying to cross the wall. Propaganda on both sides of the Wall tell a different story on how many died trying to flee into West Berlin. The west's numbers were 5000 and the east only 6. The true number to date is 136 deaths.
If you have an interest in the Cold War and the events surrounding life during this time, you need to visit this prision.. where you will see the soviet prision used right after the war.. and then the stasi prision that emerged years later. Fascinating.
Important: As of now, tours in English are only given at 2:30. This changes though, it changed from the time time I left the US and by the time i checked their website in Germany a few days later, it had changed, so check prision's website to get most up to date info before you go that day... This is the website to check :http://en.stiftung-hsh.de/document.php?cat_id=CAT_232&special=0
Aside from the near the Brandenburg Gate (where you can be photographed with an 'East German border guard') and Berlin bookshops with all manner of books about the GDR - 'Ostalgia' as it is known - the reunification of the city over the last twenty years has been such that it's hard to see the join. With a little effort, however, you can find some sights of significance in terms of the old East Germany. These are pictures of a few:
1. "The Building of the Republic" by Max Lingner (c1952), former GDR Council of
Ministers building, Leipziger Straße. This mural seems to typify something of the spirit of the GDR. It is said that the authorities interfered so much in its design that the artist refused even to look at the finished article when he passed it.
2. Staatsratgebäude with remaining Stadtschloss portal. The massive Berlin castle / palace, the Stadtschloss, was badly damaged in World War II and, in spite of protests, was demolished by the GDR authorities - all but for one Baroque portal which was incorporated into a 1960s building. The Schloss made way for the Palace of the Republic and the green space in the picture shows where it stood. It, in turn, was demolished because, so it was claimed, of the asbestos used in its construction. Apparently what springs up next on this patch of politically hot potatoes is a partial reconstruction of the original Schloss.
3. Marx and Engels statues in Marx-Engels-Forum. They're still there and a very popular attraction.
4. Nikolaiviertel. This area was largely destroyed in World War II and what the picture shows is part of a 1979-87 GDR vision of what a German town should look like.
5. The Wall - of course. This is the one of the few remaining sections, now know as the 'East Side Gallery'.
En el edificio del Ministerio de Finanzas se pueden ver dos tipos de murales, uno está en el suelo del patio, pero no pudimos verlo pues estaba todo cubierto de nieve y el otro está en la pared y representan las imágenes de los trabajadores y de la familia apoyando al "Socialismus"
Este edificio tiene una larga historia, en primer lugar fue el Reichsluftfahrtministerium de los nazis y luego se convirtió en la Administración Militar Soviética
In the actual Ministery of Finances Building you may see two types of murals , one is in the floor of the yard , but we couldn´t see as it was all covered with snow and the other is in the wall representing images of the workers and and the family suporting "Socialismus"
This building has a long history , first it was the Reichsluftfahrtministerium of the nazis and then it became the Soviet Military Administration
Former Soviet special camp and remand prison of the Ministry of State Security, as many as 40,000 people were imprisoned at this site between 1945 & 1990.
The Stasi had 91,000 full-time employees and 189,000 unofficial collaborators ensuring a blanket surveillance over the population. 'Prisoners' were sent to one of 17 Mfs remand prisons - they were controlled by the HQ (Berlin-Hohenschonhausen).
In May 1945 this became 'Special Camp No. 3' (unedr the Soviets. It was used as a transit camp where some 20,000 prisoners were transferred to other camps, including the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp of the Nazis. Between July 1945 & October 1946 Soviet records show 886 people perished due to appalling conditions. The reality is closer to 3,000. In 1945 the camp was disolved... but shortly afterwards the main Soviet remand prison was established and prisoners has to construct The 'U-Boot' (underground bunker cells. Conditions were dreadful and prisoners suffered the most dreadful physical and psychological violence.
In March 1951 the prison came under the jurisdiction of the MfS and by the end of the 50's prisoners were erecting a new building with over 200 cells and interrogation rooms - this huge complex became the Prohibited Area.
A tour around the prison will leave you with a chill, sickened with the inhumanity of it all.... and be sure to look at your tour guide... he/she is very likely to be a former prisoner.
Admission is 4 Euros (free on Mondays)
There is a cafe/bookshop/toilets
The Stasi Restricted Area Berlin-Hohenschonhausen.
Until 1990 parts of Bahnhofstrasse and Genslerstrasse, the Freienwalder and the Lichtenauser Strase, in the ast Berlin distrcit of Hohenschonhausen, simply di not exist. They were not indicated on ANY maps of the city produced by the GDR - only an 'empty' space.
On the 'street' the passerby was presented with closed metal gates, armed security and watch towers.
As of 1945 this area 'The Prohibited District' was a secret fo the Soviet Secret Service, later transferred to the GDR's State Security Service (1951).
Prior to 1951 an estimated 25,000 to 26,000 people passed through these gates.
From 1951 to 1989 there were another 20,000 to 22,000 people.
Today the area is open, you can wander freely, visit the Stasi prison and discover some of the Prohibited Areas sickening secrets.
Another interesting site along Karl Marx Allee is the Karl Mark Buchhandlung, once a well stocked bookstore selling titles focusing on Berlin architecture and on Karl-Marx-Allee. Unfortunately the book store is no longer in business, and the location now houses another office. Still, the bold sign lettering on the building facade has been saved, so from the street it doesn't look unlike what it was in past times. The film “The Lives Of Others” (“Das Leben der Anderen”) featured this store in the closing scenes of the film, so you may be interested in seeing it and recognize it.
Cafe Sybille is a great stop along Karl-Marx-Allee. While you are in this area and hopefully taking note of the Socialist Realist architecture, you should stop in here - not just to have a coffee and something to eat, but for the fine display of DDR era artifacts and documents that describe the history of this area and its construction. There are old posters, photos, some furniture etc., and quite interestingly, an ear from the old Stalin statue that was torn down after the fall of the DDR. This piece was hidden away and later put in place here.
During the early 1950s the DDR planned and re-built Karl-Marx-Allee into what it saw as a showpiece of communism from the rubble of fascism. All along the stretch from about Frankfurter Tor to Strausburger Platz the street is lined with tall, narrow buildings designed in a style decided upon by the politicians that tried to blend some of the historic look with the new, proud Stalinist style that had been developed in the USSR. These buildings cost many times more than conventional construction of the times, but the objective was not merely to house people; it was to show everyone what the State could achieve. When you walk or ride along this area you should take note of how narrow the buildings are, almost a facade to make it appear that there is much more housing than there really is.
This Soviet Memorial, built in the years following WW11, is one of the largest Soviet soldier cemeteries in Germany. Expansive rows memorials and commemorative plaques lead to the 11 meter-high bronze statue of a Soviet soldier, depicted over a destroyed the swastika and holding a child in his arms. The graves of thousands of Soviet soldiers who died in the battle for Berlin lie alongside the memorial area. This is an interesting place for those interested in the large, social-realism design popular in this era of history.
The memorial is located in Treptow Park on the southem bank of the river Spree in eastern Berlin. This urban oasis consists of recreational space, grassy meadows, sports fields and playground areas. There is also a beergarten and historic cafe' that sometimes has jazz bands playing. During warm, summer days the park is especially popular, a place for people to mingle, take in the sun, play soccer in the meadows, eat ice cream, walk along the River Spree, etc.
During post war reconstruction, the DDR needed to build economical housing to meet the needs of the population. They met a large part of this need by creating pre-fab housing blocks, multi-story buildings that were put together like puzzle pieces. The walls, ceilings and floors were made off-site in pieces, complete with plumbing and electrical intact, and pieced together quickly. They were put up all over the East, and you can't help but seeing them. Since reunification, some of them have been taken down. Some of the walls have been sold off and shipped to The Netherlands, where they are put together again for housing pigs. It's true!
Between 1951 and 1989 the East German Stasi used the Hohenschönhausen Prison as a detention centre for prisoners that had not been convicted. These consisted of persons opposed to the regime but also later on persons trying to flee to the west. During the early days various method of physical torture were used on the prisoners but as time went on the methods became much more sophisticated and psychological techniques were used. The prison was located in a restricted military zone and did not appear on any maps, the prisoners were transported there in vans with blacked out windows, so they had no idea where they were being held. They were held in insolation and this was part of the techniques used by the Stasi. Due to the length of time prisoners could be held in the prison, in the end most were forced to confess.
At present you have to go round the prison as part of a group. You need to pick a tour carefully, most are in German though there is one in English at 2pm on Saturdays. I went on a Monday which is a free day and was put on a tour where the guide also spoke English.
The Marienfelde Refugee Centre opened its doors in 1953, and until it closed in 1990 processed 1,350,000 of the 4 million refugee that fled from East Germany. It was used to process the refugees and decide if they were entitled to residents permit to live in West Germany or West Berlin. If your application was turned down because for example you just wanted to better yourself, you were allow to stay but did not receive a residents permit, making it harder to live and work. Those accepted were allowed to live in reception centre until they could move on. The Refugee Centre is now a museum which documents the process, the reasons why people left East Germany and recreated rooms in the reception centre where refugees lived. Admission is free with audio guides available for a small fee.
I decided to go for a stroll around the ellipse-shaped street of Majakowskiring with its upmarket houses. During the 1950’s this was the road that senior members of the GDR government lived in with its 1920’s houses, which were converted to suit their needs. During that period the street was well guarded and shielded from the outside world. For members of the Politburo this was not enough and after the Hungarian Uprising they became more nervous for their safety and a decision was made to build the secure Forest Community out at Wandlitz north of Berlin.
Across the street from the Reichstag, at the northeast corner of Tiergarten, is a memorial to those who were killed while trying to cross the Berlin Wall to flee from the east. The memorial is simple: a series of crosses with some photos of the deceased and their stories. It is a sombering experience to contemplate the tragic loss of life and opportunity that took place over the years near here.